Radical Cleric Returns to the Red Mosque

After 2 years in jail, Pakistani cleric returns to controversial Red Mosque.

ByABC News
March 1, 2009, 12:47 PM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan<br>April 17, 2009 -- The radical cleric of a mosque that Pakistani authorities say harbored suicide bombers returned for the first time Friday in almost two years, calling for the extension of Islamic law throughout Pakistan.

Abdul Aziz, released on bail yesterday following his July 2007 arrest, told some 10,000 followers during Friday prayers that the Islamic law recently imposed by the government on parts of northwest Pakistan was a direct consequence of efforts made by his mosque.

"What we have seen in Swat and the tribal areas is the result of the sacrifices at the Red Mosque, the students, the people who were martyred," Aziz said, referring to the July 2007 standoff between the government and the mosque's followers that killed around 100 people.

"I tell you that you should be ready to make sacrifices for Islam. The day is not far away when Islam will be enforced in the whole of the country," said Aziz.

The United States is worried that the imposition of Islamic law, or sharia, on approximately a third of the North West Frontier Province will give the Taliban and its allies safe havens from which to launch attacks.

Aziz hinted that if his efforts to spread sharia were opposed, he could resort to violence.

"We are peaceful people but if our way is blocked," he said, "then you have witnessed the scenes in Swat and in FATA," a reference to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in which militants have been fighting with the military on and off since 9/11.

The siege of the Lal Mosque in July 2007 was a turning point for Pakistan, after which the Taliban launched one of the most violent campaigns in the country's history. That campaign has once again intensified in the last few months. Today Pakistan's Interior Ministry said 1,842 terrorist incidents had occurred Pakistan since January 2008, an average of five per day. The ministry did not detail exactly what was included in the tally.

Aziz, arrested just before the siege while trying to escape the mosque in a burqa, was released on Thursday after making a deal with the government, according to Ijaz ul Haq, the former Minister for Religious Affairs and Minorities. Ul Haq, who has appeared publicly alongside Aziz, was a member of the negotiating team that failed to prevent the siege.

The siege of the Lal Mosque in July 2007 was a turning point for Pakistan, after which the Taliban launched one of the most violent campaigns in the country's history. That campaign has once again intensified in the last few months. Today Pakistan's Interior Ministry said 1,842 terrorist incidents had occurred Pakistan since January 2008, an average of five per day. The ministry did not detail exactly what was included in the tally.

Aziz, arrested just before the siege while trying to escape the mosque in a burqa, was released on Thursday after making a deal with the government, according to Ijaz ul Haq, the former Minister for Religious Affairs and Minorities. Ul Haq, who has appeared publicly alongside Aziz, was a member of the negotiating team that failed to prevent the siege.

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