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Religious Militants in Islamabad Set Conditions For Surrender


Pakistani security forces say time is running out for more than 1,000 militants inside the capital's radical Lal Masjid or Red Mosque. One of the mosque's chief clerics, still holed up inside says he and his supporters are now willing to surrender but he attached specific conditions the government says are unacceptable. From the capital VOA correspondent Benjamin Sand reports sometimes heavy gunfire could be heard throughout the night.

The powerful blasts rocked the mosque's outer walls early Friday morning as security forces continue their attack.

Speaking to the local GEO TV news program late Thursday evening hardline cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi said he was ready to consider surrender.

He says his supporters should be allowed to go free unless the government can prove they are involved with any specific a militant groups.

Ghazi also said he hoped he and his elderly mother would be able to stay inside the mosque until he could make, in his words, alternative arrangements.

The Pakistani army has surrounded the mosque since Tuesday when bloody clashes between government security forces and student militants left at least sixteen people dead and more than 150 others wounded.

Hundreds of students have already accepted a government amnesty but officials say time is running out for those who remain.

Ghazi's brother, Abdul Aziz was arrested Wednesday evening as he tried to sneak out of the mosque apparently disguised as a woman.

He appeared on state-run television Thursday morning still wearing flowing black burka he wore the night before.

Aziz said around 900 people were still inside the mosque but insisted most of them women and girls.

Pakistani officials say they believe there could be more than 50 or 60 hardcore and heavily armed militants inside the compound.

They say there are mounting fears that the militants could be using the women and children as human shields to prevent a full scale government raid.

The head of Pakistan's crisis management office, Brigadeer Javed Iqbal Cheema told reporters Thursday that any additional casualties would be the direct responsibility Abdul Rashid Ghazi. "He has to surrender. He is a criminal and has to come out and surrender before the government unconditionally," he said.

Lal Masjid has been at the center of a months long stand off with government security forces after the two brothers vowed to impose a strict Taleban style Islamic law in the capital.

Their supporters launched a controversial anti-vice campaign and recently briefly kidnapped several police officers and alleged prostitutes from mainland China.

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