The brothers wanted to enforce Islamic Law and the female students from the adjoining Jamia Hafsa took a firm stand for its imposition. They openly called for the overthrow of the Pakistani government and came into constant conflict with authorities in Islamabad. The militants caught attention after they had set fire to the Ministry of Environment building and engaged in an armed clash with Army Rangers who were guarding it. This prompted the Pakistan Army to lay siege to the Mosque.
The complex was besieged from July 3, 2007 to July 11, 2007. After negotiations failed, it was stormed by the Pakistani Army and members of the Special Service Group and re-taken. The overall conflict resulted in 154 deaths and 50 militants being captured. The assault prompted pro-Taliban rebels along the border with Afghanistan to scrap a 10-month-old peace agreement with the Pakistani government. This event triggered the Third Waziristan War which has killed over 3,000 people and marked another surge in militancy and violence in Pakistan.
Maulana Qari Abdullah was assassinated at the mosque in 1998 and since then, the entire complex was run by his sons, Maulana Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid Ghazi. The brothers admitted to having had good contacts with many of the wanted leaders of al-Qaeda, including Osama Bin Laden.
Jamia Hafsa was a female madrassa located near Lal Masjid. It was the largest religious insititute for females in the Islamic world, with more than 6000 female students. It was constructed by Maulana Qari Abdullah in 1992 but was placed under the supervision of Maulana Abdul Aziz after his father's assassination. Although the students were taught general subjects including math and geography, they were not tested on them. Their exams were only on matters relating to Islam.
Following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf announced that he would be supporting the United States-led War on Terror. This was strongly opposed by the leadership of the Lal Masjid, which was openly pro-Taliban. Maulana Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid Ghazi denied having any links with organizations now banned for supporting terrorism, but they have been vehement in their opposition to the War on Terror and the occupation of Afghanistan by coalition forces. They also had openly condemned President Musharraf, and opposed Pakistani security forces, including the Pakistan Rangers and Islamabad Capital Territory police. The mosque became a center for speeches calling for the assassination of Musharraf. One of these speeches was delivered by Maulana Masood Azhar, whose Jaish-e-Mohammad group members were later involved in failed attempts on the life of the president. In July 2005, Pakistani authorities attempted to raid the mosque in connection with the investigation into the 7 July 2005 London bombings, but police were blocked by baton-wielding female students. However, after the raid the authorities ended up apologizing for the behavior by the police.
Another confrontation took place when the mosque's militant students and leadership launched a campaign against the demolition of mosques in Islamabad by the capital authority. After the Islamabad Capital Development Authority started the demolition of a mosque that had been constructed illegally, students of the seminaries launched an all-out campaign against the government. They prevented the authorities from reaching the site and then occupied the building of a nearby children's library. This was mostly done by the female students, many of whom were carrying machine guns. The students then set up a round-the-clock vigil and promised to "fight to the death" after the government threatened to evict them. The situation was only defused after the authorities backed down and offered talks. The government later reconstructed the demolished part of the mosque compound, but the mosque leadership demanded that six other mosques around the capital city, which were also demolished, should also be rebuilt.
On March 27, 2007 female students from the Jamia Hafsa kidnapped three women they accused of running a brothel, and then seized two policemen. All of them were released after the women supposedly admitted to running the brothel and were shown to the media warning burqas. In an interview, students of the Red Mosque in the talk show "Capital Talk" claimed that the madam of the brothel had direct contacts with influential people in the government, naming the then railway minister, Shaikh Rasheed Ahmad. Also the nieghbourhood police station had allegedly been told about the kidnapping by the students earlier, who approved of it. One month later on April 6 the mosque leader, Maulana Abdul Aziz, established an Islamic Shariah court directly parallel to Pakistan's federal judicial system and pledged thousands of suicide attacks if the government tried to shut it down.
However, the students remained in occupation of the library and continued to challenge the control of the government by a raiding a brothel. They also kidnapped ten Chinese nationals, several law enforcement officials, women and children. A soft approach taken by the Pakistani government in dealings with the mosque led to accusations of leniency on the part of President Musharraf. After a gun battle with Pakistani troops, students set fire to a building belonging to the Ministry of Environment, which provoked tensions and fear for local residents. The Federal Minister for Environment, Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat, alleged that he had requested security for the building, situated near Lal Masjid, but the authorities failed to provide it. He also denied that the ministry was ordered to vacate the premises for deployment of Pakistan Rangers, saying that not a single order was issued.
On July 3, 2007, a gun battle erupted between the students of Lal Masjid and Pakistani security forces when students from the madrasah Jamia Hafsa stole radio sets and weapons from the Pakistan Rangers deployed in a nearby post. Riot police than fired tear gas shells to disperse the students. About 150 Lal Masjid students attacked a nearby Ministry of Environment office building setting fire and setting ablaze many vehicles. The fighting continued and left nine people dead and about 150 injured. Among the dead were four students of the mosque, a TV news channel cameraman, a businessman and a pedestrian. Within minutes, security forces closed off the area and emergency was declared in the capital's hospitals. Sporadic clashes continued as Pakistan Army troops were deployed.
The next day on July 4, 2007, the authorities had announced an indefinite curfew on the students of the mosque in Sector G-6 of Islamabad, where Lal Masjid is located. A command was issued to shoot anyone coming out of the mosque with weapons. The government offered those inside the mosque who exited unarmed Rs. 5,000 ($83; £41), and free education. Women inside the mosque were also offered safe passage to their homes. The deadline was regularly extended as mosque leaders employed a strategy of allowing a certain number of students to surrender during the passage of each deadline, requiring security forces to re-negotiate an extension. Government authorities announced the first deadline for students and persons present inside the Lal Masjid to surrender unconditionally by 1530 Pakistan Standard Time (PST), and it was thereafter extended to 1600, 1800, 1930 and 2130. The government said that as many as 600 armed militants are still hold up inside the mosque.
Before dawn on July 5, Pakistani troops set off a series of explosions around the mosque. While gunfire was exchanged throughout the day, the clashes apparently stopped. Extension of deadlines continued on July 5 with the strategy for the government to evacuate the mosque and Jamia Hafsa before the final operation took place. Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Sherpao announced at a press conference that it was believed that 300–400 students remained in the mosque, 50–60 of whom were militants.
The head of the mosque, Maulana Abdul Aziz, was captured attempting to leave disguised in a burqa after the fourth deadline. After Aziz's capture, about 800 male students and 400 female students of Jamia Hafsa surrendered to the authorities.
Abdul Aziz's younger brother, Ghazi Abdul Rashid, had been negotiating with a government mediator. He claimed that he and the remaining students would be willing to exit the mosque and lay down their arms provided the government stopped firing on them and granted them amnesty. However, government officials were skeptical that Abdul Rashid would honor his word. In one of the telephone interviews from one of the live transmissions of Geo TV on Thursday July 5, 2007, Ghazi Abdul Rashid denied all charges on him and said he was innocent. He further negotiated with the government to deal with him on safe passage and no harm to his companions inside, besides a request to take care of his ailing mother. However, the government asked him to surrender unconditionally along with armed students.
The siege continued on July 6. Many negotiation talks were held between the besieged Lal Masjid administration and the government authorities, without a positive outcome. A further twenty-one students surrendered to the authorities, and two students were killed in a shooting. The government decided to give more time for the safe evacuation of students from the besieged mosque. President Pervez Musharraf issued an ultimatum on Saturday evening. The Pakistani army took control of the operation, replacing the paramilitary troops who were earlier deployed near the premises. One child, aged 13, successfully escaped from the besieged mosque.
Pakistani commandos raided the outer perimeter of the compound blasting holes through the walls of the mosque to help women and children escape. The raids began shortly after 1:00 am (20:00 GMT) on July 7 and were met with heavy fire. SSG Commander Lt. Col. Haroon-ul-Islam, who had been leading the operation until he was wounded on July 6, later died in hospital on the night of July 8. However the commandos succeeded and the boundary wall of Lal Masjid and the Jamia Hafsa collapsed. Abdul Rashid Ghazi said they would not surrender and that they had enough weapons and rations to last a month.
On July 9, a group representing Pakistani madrassas, headed by Maulana Salimullah Khan, called for an immediate cessation of the Lal Masjid operation. Finland also temporarily closed its embassy in Islamabad on July 9 due to the deteriorating security situation and the close proximity of the embassy to the mosque compound. By July 10 the Pakistani government also reported that there were still 100 militants, and 300 to 400 women and children inside the mosque.
While the SSG were securing the ground floor of the mosque, they were continuously fired on from the mosque's minarets which slowed down the operation. Atop the mosque roof, the militants had piled sandbags at the foot of the minarets which they used to climb up in order to shoot at troops below. After the minarets were taken, the SSG progressed deeper into the complex, and the militants threw petrol bombs in an attempt to set fire to the mosque to stop the assault but were unsuccessful. Once the ground floor was secured, the SSG attempted to enter the Jamia Hafsa madrassa adjoining the mosque. The militants had laid a large number of booby traps that again held up the SSG as they had to be disabled before they could storm into Jamia Hafsa complex.
Arshad said troops had secured 80 percent of the complex and were moving slowly as the resistance was intense in the remaining areas. Heavily armed militants had retreated into the basement using women and children as human shields, and the standoff continued. The militants in the basement resisted with machine guns, rocket launchers, and Molotov cocktails. In a last interview with Geo TV during the operation, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who was hunkered down in the basement claimed that his mother had been wounded by gunfire and was quoted as saying "The government is using full force. This is naked aggression... my martyrdom is certain now". Ghazi also claimed that 30 rebels were still battling Pakistani troops but they only had 14 AK-47s.
From the basement, the militants continued to fire at the SSG commandos from ventilation grilles. During the firefight, Abdul Rashid Ghazi was shot in the leg and was asked to surrender. However, other militants in the room fired back at the SSG, and Ghazi was killed in the cross fire. Further reports say that Ghazi came out of a bunker to surrender but was shot by his militants. The fighting continued until the last of the militants trapped in the basement were either killed or had surrendered.
Behind an Army cordon, emergency workers waited for clearance to enter Lal Masjid and female police officers were present to handle female survivors or casualties. Other relatives of the militants inside the Lal Masjid were also behind the cordon. The Associated Press reported, "The siege has given the neighborhood the look of a war zone, with troops manning machine guns behind sandbagged posts and from the top of armored vehicles.
According to Inter-Services Public Relations, a bevy of weapons were recovered from bullet-riddled Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa complex, which included Russian made RPG and Chinese variant RPG-7 rockets, Anti-tank and anti-personnel landmines, suicide bombing belts, three to five .22 caliber rifles, RPD, RPK and RPK-74 light machine guns, Dragunov sniper rifles, SKS rifles, AK-47s, pistols, night vision equipment, and over 50,000 rounds of various caliber ammunition. Lesser sophisticated items and weaponry to be recovered from the complex included three crates of petrol bombs prepared from green soft drink bottles, gas masks, recoilless rifles, two-way radios, large plastic buckets containg homemade bombs the size of tennis balls, as well as bladed weapons such as knives.
Intelligence agencies expressed shock at the highly sophisticated modern weapons that the militants in the Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa compound had access to, and began an investigation as to where these militants had obtained such sophisticated equipment.
Pakistan Army spokesman Waheed Arshad said that a suicide bomber had detonated himself in the mosque located at the opposite side of the complex to the seminary. Arshad also said a second suicide bomber had detonated himself in the white-domed mosque. It took 36 hours to fully secure the complex from militants and remove booby traps.
Officials in Islamabad hailed the operation a success, saying they were able to kill all the fighters inside the mosque—a group that allegedly included foreign terrorists—without a heavy civilian toll. "The number of casualties was much lower than it could have been," said Shaukat Aziz, Pakistan's prime minister. Of the 164 SSG army commandos that had laid siege to the mosque on July 3 and stormed it later, 10 were killed and 33 were wounded.
The Inspector General of Police reported that from July 3 till July 11, 1,096 people—628 men, 465 women and 3 children—had come out or had been rescued from the complex. The IGP also confirmed that 102 people had been killed during the operation—91 civilians, 10 Special Service Group and one Rangers soldier—including the 16 deaths on July 10. A total of 248 people were injured—204 civilians, 41 army soldiers and 3 Rangers personnel. Seventy-five bodies were recovered from the premises of the complex at the end of the operation. The deaths of the last holdouts at Lal Masjid, brought to an end nine days period of tension in Islamabad, a normally tranquil city that until recently had been immune from the violence from the tribal areas in Pakistan.
Army spokesman Arshad said during the operation, 85 people were rescued from the complex of whom 56 were males and the rest were females. He also said 39 of them were under the age of 18 years. "With militants in different rooms, firing from behind pillars, and then going into basements and clearing it, you can understand the difficulties," he told the journalists.
Nineteen bodies were burned beyond recognition, but Pakistani officials said none of them appeared to be women or children. According to an article in The Nation, a grave digger at the cemetery where the bodies were being buried claimed there was a possibility that there was more than one body in each coffin. The article also stated that the government was digging more graves on top of the ones already established. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, which is a coalition of hardline religious parties, claimed that 400 to 1,000 students were killed including women and children. Spanish-language news channels such as Univision, Antena 3, and Telecinco claimed that the total number of deaths in the siege is above 286 and could be 300.
Pakistani investigators probing links between Lal Masjid and terrorists have discovered the enrollment registers detailing the male and female students who studied at the seminary. The investigators believe the information, which was found in the Jamia Hafsa complex, would help clear up uncertainty about the number of people killed or missing in the operation. Officials believe the list of registered students matches the number of students evacuated or captured from the mosque and Jamia Hafsa.
In the Jamia Hafsa complex, the damage was intense, and thousands of bullet-holes marked the courtyard. The basement was blackened from rockets that were fired. The main buildings of the complex were intact, whilst the boundary walls had been breached in several places. The building had bullet marks on its cement structure. The concrete and white plaster walls of the complex were riddled by gunfire from commandos, who breached the southern walls of the four-story building and traded fire with the militants, who had fortified their positions. Around two courtyards inside the school, plain concrete rooms were filled with shattered glass and spent rounds of ammunition. Piles of the girls’ bed rolls and stacks of their books were shunted against walls.
On July 15, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) was asked by the government to complete the repair and rehabilitation of Lal Masjid within 15 days, and on July 27, the mosque was re-opened to the public. However, the Jamia Hafsa complex was demolished because it was illegally constructed and was in danger of collapsing.
Dawn supported the government's actions against Lal Masjid but also asked, "...how the intelligence agencies failed to get wind of the goings-on in the Lal Masjid and the stockpiling of arms and ammunition in such large quantities".
The Daily Times also supported the government's position and said, "Let us be clear. No government can violate the universal principle of 'no negotiation with terrorists' and live to be praised."
The News was more critical and said, "Once 'Operation Silence' is over, the firing stops, the dust settles down and the bodies are counted, there are bound to be many questions raised. Why didn't the government take action earlier against the clerics because had that been the case so many lives would not have been lost? Why were the Lal Masjid elements allowed so much leeway that the complex became almost like a state within a state, complete with a moral policing force which acted with impunity enforcing a rigid interpretation of Islam on the city's residents? How did so many hardened militants, reportedly some foreigners among them, make their way inside the compound situated in the heart of Islamabad?".
The Post was worried as to how the episode would affect Pakistan and said, "This is going to ratchet up religious sentiments, and could lead to increased polarization between the moderates and extremists in the country, the former including General Musharraf under the banner of 'enlightened moderation'."
The Islam criticized the government and said, "The government cannot absolve itself of the tragedy. If it wanted, the matter could have been resolved at the start. But this was not done and, for the first time in the history of Pakistan, our own security forces not only bombarded a mosque and religious seminary, but also brought in armored personnel carriers, tanks and helicopter gunships in numbers that made you wonder. This shows that all this activity was masterminded by some satanic minds. This incident is tragic, shameful and dangerous. How much it has harmed the country and the nation, and how worse an impact it will leave on the country on the future, can at this point only be imagined."
Nawa-i-Waqt wrote in its editorial that, "The entire nation is drowned in shock and grief today. They are mourning the brute use of force. Now we need a comprehensive inquiry over the operation against the Red Mosque. The report should be made public so that the people can know the actual facts."
The Ausaf daily stated that "The entire nation is grieving... only the USA wanted what happened and proof of that is that the storming operation was celebrated at the White House and Pentagon rather than at General Musharraf's HQ.".
The Pakistan Observer praised the government and said, "The Government deserves credit for showing remarkable tolerance and patience and exhausted all possible avenues for peaceful settlement of the nerve-shattering crisis".
The European Union President, José Manuel Barroso, issued a statement that it "supports the Government of Pakistan in the defense of the rule of law and the wrist of the State against the threat posed by such armed radical groups in the context of fight against extremism". While it also praised the "restraint and moderation showed by the Pakistani authorities."
Bryan D. Hunt, the United States' Consulate in Lahore, was quoted as saying that the U.S. government supported the Pakistani government and that "the militants were given many warnings but instead of surrendering they decided to fight and challenge the writ of government". Hunt also said that the U.S. fully supports Pakistan in the War on Terror and considers Pakistan "their closest ally in South Asia". Religious parties and figures criticized the support extended by a US consulate official to the operation against Lal Masjid and demanded that the government expel him for interfering in Pakistan’s internal affairs. Foreign Office spokesperson Tasneem Aslam has characterized the US consulate official’s statement against diplomatic norms and open interference in the country’s internal affairs. She said a protest would be lodged.
State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey noted that the militants had been given many warnings before the commandos moved on the sprawling Red Mosque compound before dawn. He said, "the government of Pakistan has proceeded in a responsible way. All governments have a responsibility to preserve order."
India, which has fought three wars with Pakistan, did not officially give any reaction or comments on the Lal Masjid issue. However, it gave indirect support to Pakistan and viewed it has Pakistan's willingness to fight terrorism.
Al-Qaeda's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, issued a videotape on July 11, 2007 calling for Pakistanis to join jihad, in revenge for the attack by Pakistan's Army on the mosque. Al-Zawahri's four minute address was entitled The Aggression against Lal Masjid, and entirely focused on the clash between the Lal Masjid militants and Pakistan's army. The video was released by al-Qaeda's media wing, as-Sahab and was also subtitled in English.
Mohammed Ahsan Bhoon, President of the Lahore High Court Bar Association said, "this issue could have been resolved through negotiations but General Musharraf intentionally spilled the blood of innocent people to please his foreign masters". Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim said that the Lal Masjid assault had sent a strong message that the government "meant business".
President Pervez Musharraf vowed in a nationally televised address that he would "crush extremists throughout Pakistan and move against religious schools like those at the Lal Masjid and those that breed them". The Lal Masjid siege gave hardliners in Pakistan another rallying point, as well as new martyrs, and prompted al-Qaida and the Taliban into launching retaliation attacks in Pakistan.
The first attack came after the operation against the mosque on July 12, 2007, when two suicide attacks that killed six people in the northwest Pakistan. Another twenty-eight soldiers were killed when a suicide attacker struck a military convoy in northwest Pakistan near the Afghan border on July 14.
The bodies of about 70 of the militants found after the Lal Masjid operation, were buried in a graveyard near Islamabad. Officials took photographs, fingerprints and DNA samples from the bodies before buried in temporary graves to help relatives identify and claim the bodies later.
Since the end of the siege there has been renewed attacks in Pakistan, what is now being called the Third Waziristan War, claiming the lives of over 1,000 Pakistani soldiers, hundreds of civilians, 1,500 militants and politician Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in a suicide attack on December 27, 2007.