Pakistan Raids Mosque, Ending Siege

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistani commandos cleared the Red Mosque complex of all its defenders Wednesday, ending a fierce eight-day siege and street battles that left more than 80 dead.

"The first phase of the operation is over. There are no more militants left inside," Army spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad said.

He said the compound was still being combed for mines, booby traps and other weaponry.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told reporters that no bodies of women or children had been found inside the sprawling complex and said the probability such bodies would be found during the clearing operation was low.

"The major group of women was all together and came out all together," he said, referring to 27 women and three children who emerged from the mosque Tuesday.

More than 50 militants and 10 soldiers were killed and 33 wounded during the final, 35-hour assault by the elite Special Services Group, which began in the early hours Tuesday, the army said. The dead including the mosque's pro-Taliban cleric, Abdul Rashid Ghazi.

The commandos went in after unsuccessful attempts to get the mosque's militants to surrender during a weeklong siege mounted by the government following deadly street clashes with armed supporters of the mosque on July 3.

The extremists had been using the mosque as a base to send out radicalized students to enforce their version of Islamic morality, including abducting alleged prostitutes and trying to "re-educate" them at the compound.

More than 80 people have been killed overall since the violence began.

Arshad said three of the remaining defenders had been killed overnight.

The final hours of the operation inside the compound, which included the mosque and a women's religious school, involved troops blowing up foxholes where militants had been entrenched, an army officer said.

A photographer took an image of one apparent militant, naked from the waist up, being led by two commandos to a nearby interrogation center.

Arshad said the media would be taken on a tour of the complex, located in the heart of the Pakistani capital, but probably not until Thursday.

Relatives of young women, men and children who had been inside waited behind barricades around the mosque or inquired at morgues Wednesday.

Ghazi's body was found in the basement of the religious school after a fierce gunbattle involving militants, senior Interior Ministry official Brigadier Javed Iqbal Cheema said.

Elite troops stormed the compound after negotiations with the mosque's leaders failed. Gunfire and explosions thundered over the city while "Operation Silence," as it was called, proceeded through the night and into Wednesday.

The military said that about 1,300 had escaped or otherwise left the compound since July 3. Authorities took an unknown number into custody, while others, mostly young students, have returned to their homes.

The U.S. State Department endorsed the government's decision to storm the mosque, saying the militants had been given many warnings, and U.S. President George W. Bush reaffirmed his confidence in the Pakistani president in the fight against extremists.