Red Mosque cleric's supporters gather for funeral

About 2,000 people gathered today for the funeral of the defiant cleric killed in the army assault on Islamabad’s Red Mosque, while dozens of suspected militants were placed in temporary graves in Pakistan’s capital.

About 2,000 people gathered today for the funeral of the defiant cleric killed in the army assault on Islamabad’s Red Mosque, while dozens of suspected militants were placed in temporary graves in Pakistan’s capital.

The crackdown on the radical mosque has raised the standing of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf among moderates and foreign backers worried about rising extremism in Pakistan.

But it has given hard-liners a rallying point and, in killed cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi, a martyr to mourn, and has prompted calls from al Qaida and Taliban for revenge attacks.

Troops combing the mosque and its adjoining seminary for girls found Ghazi’s body among the remains of at least 73 people after the 35-hour commando assault ended yesterday.

Officials handed Ghazi’s body to relatives, who took it to Basti Abdullah, his ancestral village in Punjab province, for burial today.

The funeral was to be offered inside a walled compound of an Islamic seminary set up by Ghazi’s father, who ran the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque until his 1998 assassination.

Maulana Abdul Aziz, Ghazi’s brother, who was caught trying to flee the mosque disguised in a woman’s burqa, was allowed to attend, and arrived in a police pick-up truck with darkened windows.

“He was martyred for spreading Islam. He struggled and was martyred for implementation of true Islam,” Mufti Habibur Rehman, a local cleric, said in a tribute to Ghazi.

“At signals from foreign masters, Pervez (Musharraf) has spread obscenity and vulgarity in the entire country. Scholars should wage jihad against it,” Rehman said over a loudspeaker.

Many in the gathering chanted “Musharraf dog” and “The martyr of Lal Masjid is coming”, in reference to Ghazi.

Some 700 police, including 100 plainclothes officers, were deployed for security of the gathering, area police chief Maqsoodul Hassan Chaudhry said.

In all, at least 106 people died in eight days of fighting around the Red Mosque and its adjoining seminary for girls, which had challenged the government with an increasingly aggressive anti-vice campaign in the capital.

Officials said the dead included 10 soldiers, one police ranger and several civilians killed in the crossfire of the initial street battles that erupted July 3.

After the government cleared the compound of its last die-hard defenders yesterday, al-Qaida’s deputy leader joined the militant outcry against Musharraf, calling on Pakistanis to wage holy war to avenge the army assault.

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