(Reuters) - The head of a radical Pakistani mosque at the centre of a stand-off with security forces, Abdul Aziz, was arrested on Wednesday while trying to escape clad in a woman’s burqa, officials said.
Here are some facts about the mosque, where hardline Islamist students have been confronting the government since January:
- Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, is regarded as a symbol of radical Islam in Pakistan. It was established in 1965 by Muhammad Abdullah, a cleric believed to have had close ties to dictator General Zia-ul-Haq.
- About 5,000 students study at the two madrasas (seminaries) attached to the mosque.
- The mosque is well known for its criticism of the government and anti-U.S. and pro-Taliban sentiments. Abdul Aziz took over as the chief cleric after the assassination of his father, Abdullah, in 1998.
- He issued a fatwa, or religious decree, in 2005 declaring that Pakistani soldiers killed fighting militants in the northern tribal areas could not be given Muslim funeral rites.
- After the July 2005 bombings in London, police attempted to raid the mosque and the adjoining seminary to investigate its link with one of the bombers. Security forces were prevented from entering the compound by baton-wielding women.
- The mosque has been at odds with the authorities since January when female students occupied a library next door to protest against the destruction of mosques illegally built on state land. The students also pressured owners of music and video shops to close.
March 27 - Burqa-clad female students from the mosque’s Jamia Hafsa school abduct three women they accuse of running a brothel. The women are released after they “repent”.
March 30 - Authorities shut down an illegal FM radio station set up by the students and hardline clerics to propagate their strict version of Islam.
April 6 - Aziz announces plans to set up vigilante Islamic courts and exhorts followers to become suicide bombers if their Taliban-style movement is forcibly suppressed.
April 25 - The leader of Pakistan’s ruling party declares all issues have been settled peacefully but a cleric denies any agreement was reached.
May 18 - Students seize four policemen and demand that authorities release 11 comrades being held in detention. The four policemen are later freed.
June 23 - Students kidnap nine people, including six Chinese women, and accuse them of running a brothel. They are released after about 17 hours.
June 29 - President Pervez Musharraf says suicide bombers from an al Qaeda-linked militant group are in Lal Masjid.
July 3 - Clashes erupt between the students and security forces when about 150 students attack a security post at a government office near the mosque and snatch weapons. Violence continues the next day. Sixteen people are killed.
July 4 - Aziz is arrested while trying to escape clad in a woman’s burqa; up to 1,200 students surrender.
Sources: Reuters; www.lalmasjid.org