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Profile: Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi
Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi was a participant or observer in the following events:
An aerial view of the Red Mosque compound. [Source: Getty Images] (click image to enlarge)The Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) has long been a prominent center of Islamist militancy in Pakistan.
ISI Ties Slowly Weaken - Located in Islamabad, just two miles from the president’s residence and half a mile from ISI headquarters, the mosque has long-standing ties to the ISI. For instance, the mosque housed the orphans and relatives of suicide bombers who had died in the disputed region of Kashmir; the ISI worked closely with militant groups in Kashmir for many years. The mosque is run by two brothers, Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi and Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi, who also have long-standing ties to the ISI and Pakistani military. But feeling safe due to their government links, the Ghazi brothers had been acting increasingly assertive, seizing land around the mosque and slowly turning it into a large complex of madrassas (Islamic boarding schools) housing thousands of students.
Armed Standoff Slowly Develops - Militants from the mosque began threatening and sometimes even kidnapping nearby citizens for being insufficiently religious. An increasing number of militants come to the mosque with weapons, turning it into a heavily armed compound. In April 2007, the Ghazi brothers threaten civil war if the government refuses to implement Sharia law, a strict Islamic legal code. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later comment, “It was clear that the movement was out of control, the Ghazi brothers had overstepped their limits and gotten carried away, and the militants were no longer listening to their ISI handlers.” A Pakistani army brigade surrounds the estimated 10,000 students and militants barricaded inside the mosque compound. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 381-383] The crisis comes to a head in late June 2007, when activists from the mosque kidnap a six Chinese women and three Chinese men from a nearby acupuncture clinic. The activists claim the clinic is really a brothel and they will hold them until they are reeducated. [Agence France-Presse, 7/24/2007]
Army Attacks and Takes Over - On July 3, 2007, there is an initial clash between the army and the militants, and several thousand inside escape or surrender. On July 8, the army begins a full scale assault against those remaining. It takes three days of heavy fighting to clear out the mosque and surrounding complex. Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi is killed while Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi is arrested while trying to flee as a woman. The government claims that 102 militants and/or students and 10 soldiers were killed, but the militants claim that hundreds in the complex were killed.
Effects of Raid - Up until this time, there has been a loose alliance between the Pakistani government and Islamist militants in Pakistan, despite a continuing friction. But with the Red Mosque siege, the militants essentially launch a civil war against the government (see July 11-Late July, 2007). Twenty-one attacks are launched in the next three weeks alone. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 381-383] Musharraf’s popularity is initially boosted after the raid, but this support dims after evidence comes out that a number of children were killed during the raid. [Sunday Times (London), 7/15/2007] Some evidence suggests that al-Qaeda leaders such as Ayman al-Zawahiri were secretly supporting the militants in the mosque (see July 15, 2007), and al-Zawahiri apparently quickly releases an audio tape condemning the raid (see July 11, 2007).
An explosion at the Red Mosque during the government raid. [Source: Inter Services Public Relations]Prior to the Pakistani Army’s raid on the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) from July 3-11, 2007, the Pakistani government had generally maintained an uneasy alliance with Pakistani Islamist militants, although these militants sometimes launched violent attacks on the government. But in the immediate aftermath of the Red Mosque raid (see July 3-11, 2007), Pakistani militants and government forces openly war with each other. In 2005 and 2006, the government made peace deals with militants in the tribal regions of South Waziristan and North Waziristan (see February 7, 2005 and September 5, 2006). But these deals immediately collapse. On July 11, the last day of the mosque raid, al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri apparently condemns the raid and calls for Pakistanis to overthrow their government (see July 11, 2007). On July 12, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf vows in a nationally televised address that he will crush extremists throughout Pakistan. He says, “Terrorism and extremism has not ended in Pakistan. But it is our resolve that we will eliminate extremism and terrorism wherever it exists. Extremism and terrorism will be defeated in every corner of the country.” He also says that over the next few months, security forces will retake the tribal regions near the Afghanistan border now controlled by a mix of Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other militants. On the same day, Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi, who ran the Red Mosque along with his brother but was arrested during the raid, is allowed to speak at the funeral of his brother. He says, “God willing, Pakistan will have an Islamic revolution soon. The blood of martyrs will bear fruit.” Also on July 12, the first retaliatory suicide bombings take place. [Associated Press, 7/12/2007; London Times, 7/16/2007] Over the next three weeks, 167 people, including 120 soldiers and police, are killed in 21 militant attacks, many of them suicide bombings. Most of these take place in the North-West Frontier Province and the tribal regions, both of which have a strong militant presence. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later comment, “The government’s inept handling of the [Red Mosque] crisis was a turning point for al-Qaeda, Pakistani Taliban, and other extremist groups, who now joined together and vowed to topple the government and create an Islamic state.” Hundreds of potential new suicide bombers vowed revenge and began training in the tribal regions. Al-Qaeda’s focus “shifted from Afghanistan to Pakistan, where it saw a demoralized army, a terrified citizenry, and an opportunity to destabilize the state. For the first time, senior Pakistani officials told me, the army’s corps commanders accepted that the situation had radically changed and the state was under threat from Islamic extremism. In fact, the Pakistan army was now fighting a civil war.” [Rashid, 2008]
Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi. [Source: Agence France-Presse]The Sunday Times reports that “al-Qaeda’s leadership secretly directed the Islamic militants” in the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid), a center of Islamist militancy is Islamabad, Pakistan, that was raided by the Pakistani army several days earlier (see July 3-11, 2007). The Times claims that “senior intelligence officials” say that the soldiers who took over the mosque discovered letters from al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri written to Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi and Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi, two brothers who ran the mosque and surrounding compound. The article alleges that up to 18 foreign fighters arrived weeks before the government raid and set up firing ranges to teach students how to handle weapons. Pakistani government ministers blame the presence of foreign fighters for the breakdown of negotiations between government and those inside the mosque. [Sunday Times (London), 7/15/2007] Prior to the 9/11 attacks, the Ghazi brothers admitted to having good contacts with many al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama Bin Laden. After 9/11, they denied links with al-Qaeda and other officially banned militant groups, but they strongly supported “jihad against America.” Numerous speakers at the mosque openly condemned Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and even called for his assassination. [BBC, 7/27/2007] Al-Zawahiri apparently quickly releases an audiotape condemning the raid and callis for open revolt in Pakistan (see July 11, 2007).
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