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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
07ISLAMABAD2905 2007-07-03 15:55:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Islamabad
Cable title:  

SITREP ISLAMABAD 20:00 LOCAL -- CONFRONTATION AT RED MOSQUE

Tags:   ASEC PGOV PHUM PK PTER 
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1. (C) SUMMARY. Pakistani police forces have engaged with
militants at the "Red Mosque" throughout July 3. The
Government of Pakistan has been under pressure to take action
against the mosque since January 2007. Armed militants run
the mosque and control its large female population. Today,
the government exercised restraint until a series of
provocations, including automatic weapon fire directed at law
enforcement and an attack on a nearby government building,
prompted authorities to use tear gas and gunfire. Embassy
has reported extensively on the Red Mosque and the issues
leading up to this event (see reftels). Post is uncertain
about casualties, but some Pakistani police and a cameraman
have been killed. Possibly as many as fifty students have
been killed and/or injured with a number of women affected by
tear gas moved to local hospitals. Embassy is in touch with
local authorities and embassy's FSN surveillance detection
team is reporting from the site. An American reporter in the
mosque earlier in the day is safe. There is speculation that
Pakistani forces may move into the mosque after dark.

2. (C) We believe that all Americans are safe and accounted
for. CODEL Davis with six members arrived early evening July
3 and is safely in the hotel. END SUMMARY



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Violence breaks out


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3. (C) Early July 3, Pakistani police forces began erecting a
barbed wire fence around the Red Mosque compound in
Islamabad. In response, around 300 female madrassah
residents on the mosque's roof shouted to male militants in
the compound, exhorting them to take action against the law
enforcement authorities putting up the barrier. These male
militants reportedly opened fire first. The police responded
initially by firing tear gas canisters, and later with
gunfire. The male militants (as many as 2,000-3,000), some
wearing gas masks and standing behind sand bag defenses, are
heavily armed with automatic weapons.

4. (C) As of 20:00 local time, the militants continue to
exchange fire with police and Rangers. Media and post
sources indicate that there are up to 5,000 government forces
surrounding the mosque. Hundreds of onlookers, people
arriving for prayers, and journalists are also standing in
the vicinity. Local hospitals are taking in gunshot wound
victims. Some embassy sources speculate that the police and
Rangers plan to launch an assault against the mosque after
nightfall.



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Casualties


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5. (U) Local television broadcasts and embassy sources have
reported the following casualties as of 19:30 local time:
-- 2 Punjab Rangers or policemen killed by gunfire;
-- 10 militants killed by gunfire (estimates have ranged from
5-10);
-- 1 news cameraman killed by gunfire (there are also
unconfirmed reports of a second dead journalist);
-- 1 merchant killed who was caught in crossfire;
-- 60 to 70 militants injured by gunfire, including female
militants.

6. (U) Dozens of mosque women were evacuated to local
hospitals for exposure to tear gas.



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ISLAMABAD 00002905 002 OF 002


Amcit Time reporter safe


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7. (C) Post learned at 16:30 local time that Amcit Erin
Baker, a journalist with Time Magazine, was in the Red Mosque
compound. A Pakistani think tank researcher had taken her to
the mosque at 11:30 in the morning. When the gunfire began,
Ms. Baker remained inside the mosque, but then was able to
leave during a lull in the fighting. RSO contacted Ms. Baker
by cell phone and confirmed that she left the mosque safely.
DCM has communicated this information to the Operations
Center.



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Ministry building set on fire, unconfirmed explosion


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8. (C) During the afternoon, male militants also set fire to
the Ministry of Environment, located near the Red Mosque,
ostensibly because Punjab Rangers were occupying the
building. (The Environment Minister later appeared on local
television and denied Rangers had been present in the
building.) As of 19:30 local time, post does not know the
extent of damage at the Ministry, although there are
unconfirmed reports of 5 to 7 casualties resulting from the
fire and/or an explosion there.

9. (C) At approximately 17:30 local time, sources in the
vicinity of the Red Mosque heard a large explosion. Local
media reported this may have been a suicide bombing. The
mosque's extremist leader, mullah Abdur Ghazi, claimed it was
a suicide attack on the building. Embassy sources in the
area said the explosion was not a suicide bomber, and we are
seeking additional information.



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Embassy response / Actions taken


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10. (C) Post initiated its phone cascade procedure to ensure
that all American staff are safe and accounted for. Post
also issued a text message to all personnel (American and
locally engaged staff) advising them of the situation and to
avoid all unnecessary travel tonight. Post management
decided at 19:00 local time not to call an Emergency Action
Committee (EAC) meeting because most EAC members had already
left the embassy, and it would have been unwise for them to
drive back to the embassy compound. Post will continue to
monitor the situation throughout the night and decide if an
EAC is necessary tomorrow July 4.

11. (C) At least four embassy residences are in the same
sector as the Red Mosque (G 6/3). Post has determined that
these residences are not in any immediate danger but we will
continue to monitor the situation.

12. (C) CODEL Davis, with six members and two staff, arrived
evening of July 3 and are safely in the hotel.

PATTERSON