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Pakistani Military in Last Stages of Anti-Militant Operation at Mosque


Pakistani officials say more than 50 militants, including radical cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi, have been killed as the operation to clear Islamabad's Red Mosque enters its final stage. VOA Correspondent Benjamin Sand reports sporadic gunfire and heavy explosions continued more than 36 hours after the assault began.

Pakistani military forces are clearing out a residential area in the Red Mosque hoping to rid the compound of any remaining Islamic militants. State Minister of Information Tariq Azim says those in the mosque had put up "a much stiffer resistance than expected."

"They were hardened militants," he said. "One could tell they were very well trained. It seems they had prepared for this for a long time."

Militant forces reportedly defended the mosque with machine guns, rocket launchers and grenades.

Lal Masjid, or the Red Mosque, had repeatedly challenged the government's authority in recent months, and campaigned to impose strict Islamic law in the capital.

The stand off was widely seen as a major political embarrassment for Pakistan's moderate president, General Pervez Musharraf.

Azim says the government is bracing for a possible militant backlash, especially along the border with Afghanistan where the Mosque's pro-Taleban leaders had many supporters.

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