The radical cleric building a militia in the heart of Islamabad

From the Sunday Telegraph

He is one of the most dangerous men in Pakistan and is supposed to be in police detention.

Instead, as several thousand hardline Muslim worshippers knelt in prayer at the Red Mosque in the heart of Islamabad, the voice of Maulana Abdul Aziz called out over them defiantly. Seven years ago, the radical cleric led heavily armed al-Qaeda gunmen in a bloody siege at the Red Mosque, or Lal Masjid in Urdu, which left more than a hundred children, soldiers and militants dead.

Now Pakistan’s intelligence services believe he is building a new militia, grabbing land for more madrassas and preparing for another tilt at forcing the country to adopt strict Islamic law. Eyewitnesses said they had seen 30 to 40 heavily armed men from the militant group Sipah-e-Sahaba inside the mosque.  Once again, he is a reminder that one of the West’s most important allies against the forces of terror has a problem dealing with militant voices even in the middle of its own capital. 

He described the massacre of staff at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo as the “correct” application of Sharia Law for their “blasphemous” cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. “Whoever disrespects our Prophet, the sentence is death”, he said.

Aziz, whose wife has sworn allegiance to Isil, has close links both to Ayman al-Zawahiri, now the head of al-Qaeda, and the Afghan Taliban, who he represented in talks with Pakistan’s government last year. Students at the madrassa run by his wife in the Red Mosque complex study in the recently renamed Osama bin Laden Library.

He repeated his assertion that while the “brutal murder of young children” at Peshawar’s Army Public School “cannot be justified”, the killers were responding to offensives by the army in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

His words are familiar to regulars at Friday prayers, held in a leafy neighbourhood of Islamabad.

The only solution for Pakistan’s problems, he continued, was for its government to adopt hardline sharia, including a ban on music and women appearing in public without covering their faces. And he gave a chilling warning. Unless the government implements his vision of Islamic law soon, he and his followers “will solve it”. 

Pakistan’s intelligence services believe he is in control of an armed militia . . . It added that he had organised a militant wing, the Ghazi Force, operating under two Taliban leaders in the tribal areas.

Aziz has no regrets over the carnage at his mosque and continues to deny that there were gunmen in the complex, despite photographic evidence of militants firing machine guns from the roof and the 18 bodies of armed men, including Chechens, Egyptians and Afghans, that were later found by the security services.

The siege followed a violent campaign by stick-wielding female students from the madrassa who patrolled nearby streets in black burqas, kidnapped an alleged prostitute, harassed Chinese massage parlour staff and eventually torched a government ministry building. At one point, they attacked paramilitary troops and seized their weapons and radio equipment.

While it was the government’s job to promote sharia, he said he would not rule out sending the madrassa girls on to the streets and into confrontation with the authorities again.