ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Hard-line Pakistani religious students on a crusade against vice kidnapped nine people, including six Chinese women, on Saturday and accused them of running a brothel. The nine were released after about 17 hours.
The abductions were the most provocative action undertaken by Taliban-supporting students associated with Islamabad’s Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, to press various Islamist demands.
“The foreign women were involved in prostitution in a massage centre,” the students said in a statement before their release.
Abdul Rashid Ghazi, a top cleric at the mosque, said the nine had been let go in the interests of friendship between Pakistan and China and after authorities had given assurances about stopping mixed-sex massage parlors.
China is Pakistan’s most steadfast ally.
“If we have hurt the feelings of our Chinese brothers ... we apologize, and we ask them to look at it from our point of view,” Ghazi told a news conference at his religious school.
The Chinese women, clad in black, all-enveloping burqas, were later seen leaving the school and getting into a van.
The Pakistani government called the kidnappings from what it said was a clinic “shocking”.
Ghazi told Reuters seven of the nine were Chinese and two Pakistanis. Six of the Chinese were women, he said.
“We greatly respect Pakistan-China friendship but it doesn’t mean that foreign women can come here and indulge in such vulgar activities,” Ghazi said before their release.
China’s Xinhua news agency earlier said Pakistan Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao had telephoned China’s ambassador to apologize and assure him the hostages would be released.
Authorities have been confronting clerics and students at the mosque for months. The radicals have threatened suicide bombings if force is used against them.
Trouble began in January when female students attached to the mosque occupied a library next to their school to protest against a campaign to remove mosques built illegally on state land.
“EXCEEDED ALL LIMITS”
In March, students abducted three Pakistani women they accused of running a brothel and held them for several days before forcing them to confess and releasing them.
They have also abducted and briefly held policemen, and have warned video shops to stop selling Western films deemed obscene.
The students arrived in three vehicles in the middle of the night to raid the house in a residential neighborhood.
“They have now exceeded all limits and are bent upon continuing their illegal campaign despite utmost patience and tolerance shown by the authorities,” the Interior Ministry said.
The students had denied kidnapping and said they wanted to persuade the nine to give up their vulgar ways.
President Pervez Musharraf has said he felt humiliated by his inability to oust the radical clerics from their city-centre mosque. They have about 5,000 followers at associated madrasas.
Fears of a backlash if any female students were hurt in an assault has stayed the government’s hand, he said. Instead, the government, which is struggling with a judicial crisis that is sapping its popularity, has tried to mollify the Islamists.
The students’ behavior, reminiscent of Afghanistan’s Taliban, coupled with the authorities’ failure to rein them in, has dismayed many in the relatively cosmopolitan capital.
Additional reporting by Beijing bureau
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.