Civilians 'Hostage in Red Mosque'

July 8, 2007

Author: Staff Writer

Source: BBC News

Pakistan's religious affairs minister has said radical Islamists are holding women and children hostage inside a besieged mosque complex in Islamabad.

Ejaz-ul-Haq told the BBC those in control of the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, were "hardened terrorists".

Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said he suspected some of the combatants were trained militants.

At least 21 people have died since fighting erupted when the army surrounded the mosque last week.

An army commander was shot dead by gunmen inside the mosque on Sunday.

The mosque's leader, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, has said he and his followers would commit suicide rather than surrender.

Abdul Rashid Ghazi said as many as 1,800 followers remained in the mosque, although this cannot be verified.