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Pak hawks nab 4 policemen

Islamabad, May 19 (AP): Religious students at a pro-Taliban mosque, notorious for launching its own anti-vice campaign, abducted four plainclothes policemen for patrolling near their premises in Islamabad, a cleric and police said.

Abdul Rashid Ghazi, a cleric at Islamabad’s Lal Masjid or Red Mosque, said students detained the four officers yesterday because they had been standing outside a seminary linked to the mosque despite an understanding with authorities that no police would be deployed there.

He said the abductions were in retaliation for intelligence agents detaining eight or nine of its students in the past two weeks.

However, the police today put off plans to launch a crack down on the radicals in the mosque after they agreed to release two out of the four policemen they had kidnapped yesterday.

“We agreed to release two policemen after an assurance from the government team that they will also set free four out of the 11 Jamia Faridiya students arrested recently,” Ghazi said.

However, he made it clear that the remaining policemen and their vehicle would be released only after the government freed the remaining students. “We had advised the government not to carry out such acts like spying, which could aggravate the situation,” Ghazi said. “However, the government chose to ignore our warnings.”

Last month, female students at Lal Masjid on a freelance anti-vice campaign sprung to prominence by kidnapping an alleged brothel owner and forcing her to make a confession. The mosque later declared it had set up its own Islamic court, and threatened music and movie shops to close.

The clerics and students, who are also well known for their anti-US stand, are demanding the government rebuild several mosques demolished in the campaign against land encroachment and enforce Islamic laws.

The mosque’s top cleric, Abdul Aziz, last month threatened to unleash suicide bombers if the government used force to block their efforts to push for strict Islamic law.

Critics have accused the government of President Pervez Musharraf of appeasing the religious vigilantes — despite concerns that pro-Taliban hardliners, intent on enforcing a stringent version of Islamic law or Shariah, are gaining sway in Pakistan.

Militants have kidnapped eight Pakistani government development workers in a tribal region on the Afghan border, a senior official said today. The workers, including five women, were abducted last evening while visiting sites for aid projects in North Waziristan, where the government signed a peace deal aimed at ending militant violence.

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