|Fresh paint on the shrine’s outer wall reads Lal Masjid, meaning Red Mosque|
Pro-Taliban fighters have seized control of a mosque and shrine in the Mohmand area of Pakistan’s North West Frontier province and renamed it the Red Mosque.
The tribesmen have expressed support for Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the leader of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, killed in a government assault last month.
Dozens were killed on Tuesday night as the fighters battled government forces in the remote and sparsely populated tribal region.
Armed with light machine guns, assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, fighters now patrol the complex, led by Umar Khalid, who is in his early thirties and, like the rest of his men, keeps his face hidden.
Khalid said: “If anyone goes against the Quran and Islam – whether it is America, Afghanistan or our own government – anyone who works for Islam is acceptable to us, not anyone else.”
The captured mosque is famous as the final resting place of Haji Saheb of Taurangzai, a religious leader who fought against forces of the British Empire in the 1930s.
He too rallied tribal fighters to battle against an enemy with superior firepower.
|Tribal elders are trying to negotiate
a peaceful end to the conflict
Historically, Pakistan’s tribal people have been fiercely independent and have resisted outside control.
A remnant of an old and rusty bomb dropped near the shrine from a British aircraft at the height of the battle against lashkars (armed tribal fighters) is a lasting reminder of that era.
Efforts are under way to resolve the crisis through a tribal jirga, or council of elders.
The elders hope to negotiate a peaceful end to the standoff, but the men inside have remained defiant.
Before he was killed in the raid on Lal Masjid, Ghazi warned that after his death there would be many more Red Mosques.
Now the people and the government will be hoping that this newly named mosque will not meet a similar end.