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Cleric says 850 in Pakistan mosque, 14 with AK-47s

The captured head of a Taliban-style student movement says there are still around 850 students in besieged mosque, 14 of them are armed.
Reuters | By HT Correspondent
UPDATED ON JUL 10, 2007 04:12 PM IST

The captured head of a Taliban-style student movement said on Thursday there were still around 850 students in Islamabad's besieged Red Mosque, around 14 of them armed with Kalashnikov sub-machineguns.

Abdul Aziz made the comments on state-run television the day after he was arrested trying to escape from the radical Red Mosque clad in a woman's all-enveloping burqa.

At the start of the interview, the cleric dramatically lifted the black veil on a burqa to reveal a bushy grey-bearded face and white skull cap.

He said there were around 250 male students and 600 females still in the compound after a mass exodus on Wednesday.

"At least 13 to 14 Kalashnikovs and 250 (male) students are in (the) mosque," he told Pakistan Television. "I wanted to leave."

"Some of our women teachers were of the opinion that some female students should be kept at the mosque. They were politely counselling them to stay as this is the time as a sacrifice," he said. "They are not used as human shields, we only gave them passion for jihad (holy war)."

The cleric, who once met Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, said his Taliban-style movement had no links with "our foreign friends".

However, he said that as the confrontation with the authorities in the Pakistani capital deepened, some militant groups had provided arms.

At least 16 people have been killed since clashes broke out on Tuesday between militant students at the mosque and paramilitary troops, who have now laid siege to the compound.

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