ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – The Red Mosque, where a siege involving Islamic militants ended in a deadly commando raid two weeks ago, will reopen Friday with a new coat of paint — in pale yellow.
Minister for Religious Affairs Ijazul Haq on Thursday led journalists on a tour through the mosque to see the repairs and to announce that worshippers would be allowed to return Friday for the first time since the siege began early this month.
The Red Mosque, or Lal Masjid, and a seminary were scorched by explosions and pocked by bullets after commandos stormed the complex July 10, ending the weeklong takeover by gunmen inside. At least 102 people died in the violence.
The commando raid and the redeployment of the army in Pakistan's violent northwest have prompted a wave of suicide attacks and bombings that have killed scores of security forces and civilians. President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has called for national unity against extremists enraged by the army's bloody assault on the mosque.
The corrugated iron roof that was blasted by explosions during the fighting has been replaced, and bullet-scarred walls were patched and painted. The rooftop minarets gleamed bright white and the main prayer hall smelled of fresh paint.
Outside, remnants of the destruction remained, with dozens of police and paramilitary officers on patrol, and barbed wire encircling part of the complex that included a girls seminary.
The badly damaged seminary was demolished, with piles of concrete and mangled steel all that remained. Cranes and dump trucks worked at moving away the rubble.
Haq said that 50 bodies found in the mosque after the siege were still to be identified.
After the siege, the government sealed off the downtown mosque and moved quickly to repair it, amid outrage from deeply religious Pakistanis.
"We hope this kind of tragedy will not happen in the country in the future," Haq told reporters after the tour, which included prayers.
In the courtyard, workers pitched tents in anticipation of worshippers filling the main hall Friday and spilling outside into Islamabad's monsoon-season heat.
Haq said the government will pay for former seminary students who request education and lodging. Earlier, a top municipal official said the seminary would not be reconstructed.
Haq said the government was provoked by the violence by the leaders of the Red Mosque.
Amid continuing public skepticism, Haq denied that the government hid the exact number of casualties. "The government has nothing to hide in this," he said.
Meanwhile, authorities were to release 62 more students from the Red Mosque seminary after they were questioned about the siege, but cleared of any wrongdoing, said Mirza Shahid Salim Baig, superintendent of a jail where the detainees were held.
A total of 620 people who fled the mosque and seminary compound during the siege were detained, 508 of whom have been freed, Baig told a Supreme Court hearing.
The mosque's clerics had used the schools' thousands of students in an aggressive campaign to impose Taliban-style Islamic law in the capital. The campaign, which included kidnapping alleged prostitutes and threatening suicide attacks, raised concern about the spread of Islamic extremism in Pakistan.