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Pakistani Militants Kidnap Chinese Nationals in Islamabad

Hard-line religious students from a mosque in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, kidnapped nine people, including several Chinese nationals early on Saturday, accusing them of so-called "immoral activities." From Islamabad, VOA correspondent Benjamin Sand reports.

Witnesses say scores of young men, many waving clubs and bamboo batons, stormed a Chinese health center just past midnight.

The students overwhelmed three Pakistani security guards and then kidnapped at least nine people, most of them Chinese nationals, including at least six women.

The hostages were taken to the nearby Lal Masjid Mosque, whose hard-line Islamist clerics have vowed to impose a Taleban-style sharia law in the capital.

Speaking by phone from inside the mosque Saturday, chief cleric Abdul Rasid Ghazi defended the student raid.

He says the Chinese women were giving men massages and other "un-Islamic services." He says all nine hostages are being treated well and will be released.

Pakistani officials say they are filing kidnapping charges against at least 25 of the mosque's students, but police say none of them have been taken into custody.

Lal Masjid has repeatedly challenged the government's authority in recent months and, so far, has done so with relative impunity.

Hundreds of students from the mosque's religious school have occupied a nearby children's library since January.

Hundreds more joined what they called an anti-vice campaign in April and kidnapped several Pakistani women they accused of running a brothel.

A month later armed students seized seven police officers patrolling the streets outside the mosque.

The government has threatened reprisals, but each time it has backed down in favor of negotiated settlements.

This is the first time the students have targeted foreigners and security analysts here in Pakistan say the move will likely increase the pressure on the government to confront the mosque.

China is one of Pakistan's key political allies and economic partners.

Officials say they want to avoid any violent confrontation that could injure any of the women and children inside the mosque's compound.

Critics say the ongoing standoff highlights the government's failure to crack down on religious militants.