Religious students take four policemen hostage in Islamabad
May 19, 2007 - 2:42:00 PM

Islamabad, May 19 - Followers of a radical cleric in the Pakistani capital have kidnapped four policemen and demanded the release of eleven fellow students from custody, a senior police official said Saturday.

'The students of Maulana Abdul Aziz have held four personnel of the Islamabad police hostage since Friday evening,' Deputy Commissioner Chaudhry Mohammed Ali said.

Authorities had registered a case against Aziz and his brother Maulana Abdul Rashid, who co-run the Lal Masjid - and two affiliated madrassa religious schools, and 70 students under anti-terrorism laws, he said.

'We are holding negotiations with the government for the exchange of the police officials and students,' Rashid said.

'We have demanded the release of our 11 students and a rights activist, Khalid Khwaja, who was arrested only for taking up the case of missing persons,' he added.

Aziz warned the government in his Friday sermon on May 6 that security officials would be kidnapped if students held in police custody were not released.

Baton-wielding students of the mosque successfully traded two abducted policemen for four detained colleagues in March when they began taking their militant interpretation of Islam onto the streets of the capital.

More were arrested as they pursued a campaign in the city, issuing warnings to owners of audio and visual entertainment stores to stop peddling un-Islamic and morally corrupting goods.

An alleged manager of a brothel was also held in the mosque for two days in March and was only released after she repented publicly.

Backed by thousands of students, the clerics have demanded the enforcement of strict Islamic law in Pakistan and pledged to trigger a wave of suicide attacks in case of any action against the mosque.

President Pervez Musharraf has been under pressure to use force against the mosque and madrassa pupils. But fearing a backlash from religious conservatives he has favoured a negotiated solution.

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