Red Mosque standoff continues in Pakistan's capital

The standoff at the Red Mosque entered its third day in Islamabad as Islamic militants refused to leave the complex and rejected calls for their unconditional surrender.

The standoff at the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, entered its fourth day in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Friday as Islamic militants refused to leave the complex and rejected calls for their unconditional surrender.

Relatives help Gull Khan, centre, who was injured by gunfire from militants when he was on his way to the Red Mosque to convince his daughters to surrender on Friday in Islamabad, Pakistan. ((Anjum Naveed/Associated Press))
Pakistani troops continued tobombard the building periodically with explosions and rounds of gunfire.

"We will not surrender. We will be martyred, but we will not surrender," Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the mosque's senior cleric, told local GEO TV.

"We are more determined now," he said.

Troops surrounded the mosque on Wednesday, a day after tensions between government security forces and mosque followers erupted into deadly street clashes.

Seeking Taliban-style rule

The violence,which has killed 19 people, brought to a head rising tensionsbetween Pakistan's government and its top cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz who, with his followers, has sought to impose Taliban-style rule in the city.

Pakistani police officers gather in front of a house where a long-barrelled anti-aircraft gun and a light machine gun were found on the rooftop. ((Khurram Butt/Associated Press))
"This is something that has been in the works for the past six months," Declan Walsh of The Guardian told CBC News from Islamabad.

During lulls in the fighting, some parents have tried to approach the complex, handing notes to those inside with the names of their children whoare students in the mosque.

"The militants refused to release the children and one of the parents was shot in the foot," Walsh said.

In an interview with GEO TV, Ghazi denied that he was holding students as hostages.

Ghazi said that he and his followers were willing to lay down their arms and end the standoff, but on condition they were not arrested.

'We will not bow to them'

"We are ready for our heads to be cut off but we will not bow to them," Ghazi said in a statement reported by the BBC.

Aziz, who is Ghazi's brother, was caught Wednesday as he tried to escape the complex disguised in a burka.

While the standoff continued, gunmen fired at a plane carrying Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf as it took off from the capital.

Reuters reported that one of its photographers saw two large guns mounted on a two-storey house near the airport and that a neighbour had heard guns being fired.

Musharraf landed safely at his destination.

With files from the Associated Press