Radical Islamic students freed nine people, including three Chinese women, hours after kidnapping them today from a massage parlour in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, officials said.
The abductions were the latest act in a freelance anti-vice campaign by seminary students and teachers that has embarrassed the government of President General Pervez Musharraf and raised concerns about rising extremism in Pakistan.
Dozens of Islamic students seized the nine people from a massage parlour in an upmarket neighbourhood of Islamabad, police official Mohammed Naeem said.
They were released after about 14 hours, said Abdul Rashid Ghazi, one of two brothers who run the mosque.
Ghazi said the abductees were “spreading obscenity” and “running a brothel in the cover of a massage parlour”.
Six foreign women were taken, including three Chinese. One Chinese man and two Pakistani men were also among those kidnapped. Ghazi didn’t disclose the nationalities of the three other women.
Earlier, the Interior Ministry said the abductions were a “shocking and unlawful act.”
Mohammed Ali, the deputy chief of Islamabad’s administration, said authorities would take “appropriate action” against those responsible. He didn’t elaborate.
He confirmed the nine people were released after negotiations were held with Ghazi.
At loggerheads with authorities over a land dispute, clerics from the mosque in January sent female seminary students to occupy a municipal children’s library.
They raised the stakes further by kidnapping a Pakistani woman they accused of running a brothel and holding her for three days in what they said was an attempt to impose a harsh interpretation of Islamic law, or Shariah.
Last month, they seized seven policemen to press for the release of students detained by authorities for threatening the owners of music stores. The officers were released after authorities drafted thousands of police into the capital.
Officials say Ghazi’s supporters are armed and that cracking down on the mosque could provoke a bloodbath – the mosque’s prayer leader has warned of suicide attacks.
Critics accuse intelligence agencies of manipulating the events to divert attention from a crisis triggered by Musharraf’s controversial suspension of the country’s top judge.