A Pakistani court has issued an arrest warrant for a hardline Islamic cleric who suggested the massacre of school children in the country’s worst ever terror attack was understandable.
Maulana Abdul Aziz also reportedly threatened people criticising him for leaping to the defence of the Taliban.
“Police have received the court order and we are trying our best to implement it,” reported the AFP news agency on Saturday, citing a police official in the capital Islamabad.
The official requested anonymity as he was not authorised to talk to media.
The arrest warrant came as Aziz, head of the Red Mosque in Islamabad and seen as pro-Taliban, faced accusations that he was threatening civil society activists, who this week staged several demonstrations outside the mosque, a police official and a spokesman for the mosque told the AFP.
The protests were staged to denounce Aziz, who refused to condemn the massacre on a television talk-show.
Later Aziz told worshippers the attack in Peshawar, which left around 150 people dead – mainly children – was a justifiable reaction to the army’s “un-Islamic” operation against the fighters in the North Waziristan tribal district.
“O rulers, O people in power, if you will commit such acts, there will be a reaction,” he told worshippers in a sermon last week, prompting further protests accusing him of being a Taliban sympathiser.
Pressure on police
Hafiz Ihtesham Ahmed, a spokesman for the Red Mosque, accused civil society activists of pressurising police to register a case against Aziz.
“This case has no grounds, so we will resist any move to arrest Maulana Abdul Aziz,” Ahmed said.
Pakistan has described the bloody rampage in Peshawar as its own “mini 9/11”, calling it a game-changer in the fight against extremism.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed the assault as revenge for an ongoing military offensive against its strongholds in the tribal northwest.
News of the arrest warrant came as the army issued a statement saying its fighter jets and ground forces had killed at least 39 suspected Taliban fighters as part of an ongoing operation in a troubled tribal region near the Afghan border.
The statement said the airstrikes also destroyed an underground tunnel system and a large underground cache of weapons and ammunition on Friday evening in the Datta Khel area of the North Waziristan tribal region.
The army’s claims are hard to verify as journalists are barred from the region.