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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Red Mosque in Islamabad stormed, at least 60 militants killed

RIA Novosti

10/07/2007 13:14 (Recasts lead, updates number of militants and troops killed, hostages escaped, adds details in paragraphs 6-9)

ISLAMABAD, July 10 (RIA Novosti) - At least 60 Islamic militants have been killed and as many captured when troops stormed the besieged Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) compound in Islamabad early Tuesday in a bid to end a tense weeklong standoff.

Pakistani Army spokesman Gen. Waheed Arshad said troops entered the mosque after last-ditch talks failed to persuade the nearly 1,000 students inside to surrender.

"At least four soldiers were killed in the assault," he said, adding that about 27 children and 20 women had managed to flee the compound.

The militants are believed to be holding about 150 hostages inside, among them many women and children, although they had previously insisted that all those remaining in the mosque were there voluntarily and preferred martyrdom to surrender.

A delegation led by former Prime Minister Chaudry Shujaat Hussain had attempted to negotiate a peaceful end to the siege with mosque leader Abdul Rashid Gazi, but talks failed and the assault began minutes after the officials left the compound.

With two-thirds of the compound secured by Pakistani authorities, intense fighting is continuing as government troops focus on adjacent buildings, including a women's religious school where the remaining militants and believed to have holed up.

"The school is big. It has about 75 rooms and cellars," Arshad said. "We are taking a step-by-step approach to avoid collateral damage."

He said an elite commando unit had penetrated the cellars in the compound to sweep them from the well-armed militants, who are believed to have booby-trapped the area.

The assault culminates a six-month campaign by hardline clerics at the mosque to impose Taliban-style rule in the capital. Ensuing battles with security forces left scores dead and many more wounded.

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