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Pakistani mosque siege ends

July 12, 2007|From the Associated Press

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — Commandos cleared the warren-like Red Mosque complex of rebel fighters Wednesday, ending a fierce eight-day siege and street battles that left more than 100 dead.

Hours later, Ayman Zawahiri, who is said to be the No. 2 leader of Al Qaeda, called on Pakistani Muslims to wage holy war against the government of President Pervez Musharraf in retaliation for the assault on the mosque.

"Rigged elections will not save you, politics will not save you, and bargaining, bootlicking negotiations with the criminals, and political maneuvers will not save you," the bespectacled and white-clad Zawahiri said in a new video, which bore English subtitles.

"Musharraf and his hunting dogs have rubbed your honor in the dirt in the service of the crusaders and the Jews," he said.

After the assault, the government warned that it would not tolerate militancy in any of Pakistan's thousands of religious schools.

Officials searching the mosque after the assault found no corpses of women and children, said Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, a military spokesman. He said, however, that seven or eight of the bodies recovered had been burned beyond recognition, apparently by the militants' gasoline bombs,

At least 106 people have been killed since the violence began at the Red Mosque. They include 10 soldiers, one police ranger and several civilians who died in the crossfire in the initial street fighting last week.

Also killed was the mosque's pro-Taliban cleric, Abdul Rashid Ghazi. Zawahiri described the cleric's death as a "dirty, despicable crime committed by Pakistani military intelligence" on Musharraf's orders.

Arshad said 73 bodies believed to be those of the mosque's die-hard defenders were found after the final, 35-hour assault that began early Tuesday.

"There may be a few more which may be found in the debris. We don't expect there will be many," Arshad told Dawn News television. "We have handed [the bodies] to the civilian authorities."

Elite commandos went in after unsuccessful attempts to get the militants to surrender. Government forces had encircled the complex after deadly street clashes with armed supporters of the mosque July 3.

The extremists had been using the compound as a base from which to send radicalized students to enforce their version of Islamic morality, including abducting alleged prostitutes and trying to "reeducate" them at the compound in the heart of Islamabad, Pakistan's capital.

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