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Radical Pakistani Cleric Threatens Terrorist Acts if Authorities Raid His Mosque

Pakistani security forces are on high alert after an extremist cleric threatened suicide attacks if the authorities try to raid his mosque in the capital. The religious hardliner says he is opening a religious court in the city to combat what he calls unIslamic behavior. From Islamabad, VOA correspondent Benjamin Sand reports.

Maulana Abdul Aziz told several thousand supporters at his Lal Masjid mosque Friday that the government had one month to shut down music stores and other businesses that he calls "purveyors of filth."

With the crowd bellowing its approval, the radical cleric said that if the government did not take action against what he considers vice, his followers would.

Aziz insisted he is not looking for a confrontation with the authorities, but he vowed that his supporters would not tolerate any interference.

He says, if the government uses force, we have hundreds of thousands of young people who will launch suicide attacks to destroy them.

His sermon was punctuated with calls for jihad, or religious war, from the audience.

Afterwards, hundreds of students from the mosque's seminary burned piles of CDs and DVDs in the street.

The fiery rhetoric is the latest salvo in an ongoing confrontation between government authorities and the Lal Masjid mosque, which teaches a Taleban-style version of Islamic orthodoxy.

Last month, thousands of students from the mosque's Jamia Hafsa madrassah kidnapped three women from the surrounding neighborhood after accusing them of running a brothel.

Hundreds more students have been occupying a nearby children's library since January 21, to protest government efforts to demolish several mosques built illegally on public land.

Speaking at a nearby convention center Friday, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf warned against any further escalation in tensions.

He says his government will not allow the mosque's supporters to take the law into their own hands.

But the security forces have repeatedly backed away from any violent confrontation with the mosque's followers, and Aziz continues to preach his austere brand of militancy with impunity.

The authorities insist a crackdown could spark a much wider and more violent backlash. They say negotiations remain the best option for what everyone admits is an increasingly untenable situation.