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Pakistan Re-Opens Red Mosque Three Months After Deadly Raid


Pakistan has re-opened a mosque where a raid three months ago against militants left more than 100 people dead. Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf has vowed the government will never allow extremists to re-take the mosque. Daniel Schearf reports from VOA's Islamabad bureau.

On orders of Pakistan's Supreme Court, authorities re-opened Islamabad's Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque.

The mosque was closed in July after government troops stormed the building and a nearby religious school complex housing militants. More than 100 people were killed in the raid.

Two weeks later, officials tried to re-open the mosque, but closed it just a few hours later after violent clashes broke out between police and protesters who tried to re-occupy the mosque. That same day, a suicide bomber targeted police, killing 14 people. The government tore down the religious school after the attack.

In an interview released by Pakistan's Geo Television, President Musharraf said the government had never been against re-opening the mosque. But, he said 200 to 300 militants had been trying to take over the mosque under the guise of religion, something he would not tolerate.

"We will not allow anyone to take over the control of the mosque," he said. "It is just a mosque. The cleric should have normal worship there. And, it should not be used for violent propaganda."

The Red Mosque was known for preaching an extreme interpretation of Islam and a Taleban-style movement.

One of the radical clerics who ran the mosque, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, was killed in the July siege. His deputy and brother, Abdul Aziz, tried to escape dressed in a woman's burqa, a Muslim garment, but was captured.

The Supreme Court decided Tuesday to re-open the mosque, after hearing petitions from relatives of the two clerics.

Since the raid, Pakistan has suffered a series of suicide bombings and attacks against security forces that have killed hundreds of people.

Since the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Mr. Musharraf has made Pakistan an important ally of Washington in the fight against terrorists and extremists, support that has upset many in the country who view the U.S. "war on terror" as a war against Muslims.

Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding in the border area of Pakistan and Afghanistan with the support of sympathetic locals. In a tape released in September he vowed retaliation against Mr. Musharraf for the assault on the Red Mosque.

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