Print

Pak mosque leader arrested disguised in burqa

(AFP) 

ISLAMABAD - Pakistani security forces arrested the leader of a radical mosque under siege in Islamabad as he tried to flee while disguised in a burqa on Wednesday, officials said.

Abdul Aziz was detained as he left the Red Mosque in Islamabad amid a crowd of women wearing similar attire, who were surrendering to the authorities a day after bloody clashes outside the building left 16 people dead.

Deputy information minister Tariq Azeem said it was a ‘farcical end’ to the cleric’s resistance.‘After all the things he has said and all the oaths he took from his students that they should embrace martyrdom with him, look at this man, he had to eventually try to run like a woman,’ Azeem told AFP.

Officials said Aziz’s wife was also arrested but his brother, deputy mosque leader Abdul Rashid Ghazi, was still at large.‘We caught Abdul Aziz when he was trying to escape the mosque clad in a burqa.

He did not offer any resistance,’ added a top security official involved in the capture.‘He was the last in a group of women all wearing the same clothes. He was wearing a burqa that also covered his eyes,’ the official said on condition of anonymity.‘Our men spotted his unusual demeanour.

The rest of the girls looked like girls but he was taller and had a pot belly.’Hundreds of female students at the mosque surrendered on Wednesday along with their male counterparts, but while the men were detained the women were allowed to go back to their homes.A soldier who saw the incident said Aziz was in a group of around 20 women who attracted attention by screaming and shouting as they were taken to a nearby school for security checks.‘We had processed about 200 women today but this crowd was very unusual because as soon as they came out they started yelling and saying screening was un-Islamic, and unethical,’ paramilitary officer Manzoor Ahmad told AFP.

There was so much noise that they attracted the attention of everyone. But in the middle of the crowd, an officer spotted a tall, well-built woman with a big belly who was neither shouting nor screaming,’ Ahmad said.‘The officer pounced on the lady, and as he grabbed her, the burqa came off and his beard fell out.‘He asked the man who he was and he said ‘I am Maulana (senior cleric) Abdul Aziz. Then the women around him fell silent and he was immediately whisked away.’

Footage on state television showed security officials dragging the bearded Aziz towards a car after his arrest and being dumped in a black Toyota Corolla before being driven off.The reclusive Aziz was previously best known for his fiery sermons. In April he pledged to launch ‘thousands’ of suicide attackers if the authorities cracked down on his mosque.

Aziz and Ghazi were campaigning for the introduction of an Islamic justice system to emulate that imposed by the hardline Taleban regime in neighbouring Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.The Taleban were noted for forcing women to wear burqas.‘These people (Aziz and his staff) spoiled the trust of those who trusted them with their life and their children and he ended up showing his low principles,’ Azeem said.It is very sad that so many people had to lose their lives following a person who has no principles himself. It is a farcial end.’