Pro-Taliban Militants Seize Shrine, Rename It 'Red Mosque'

Pro-Taliban militants seized control of a shrine in northwestern Pakistan and renamed it after Islamabad's Red Mosque, while 10 people died in the latest violence near the Afghan border, officials said Monday.

About 70 pro-Taliban militants occupied the shrine of renowned Pashtun freedom fighter Sahib Turangzai and its accompanying mosque in the town of Lakarai in Mohmand tribal region on Sunday, a spokesman for the militants and a local government official said.

The militants declared their support for the radical leaders of the Red Mosque that was stormed by Pakistan's army this month after its clerics launched a Taliban-style anti-vice campaign in the capital.

As well as renaming the mosque in Lakarai after the Red Mosque, the militants also vowed to set up a girls' seminary at the site — reminiscent of the one in Islamabad where the anti-vice campaign was centered.

Authorities demolished that seminary last week after the army siege that left 102 people dead and triggered reprisal attacks by militants, particularly in the restive northwest.

"We will ensure education here for students who were dispersed after the operation against Lal Masjid in Islamabad," Khalid Omar, a man who claims to speak for the militants, said in telephone calls to journalists in Peshawar.

"We will struggle for the mission of Haji Sahib Turangzai and Abdur Rashid Ghazi who wanted an Islamic system," Omar said.

Turangzai was a religious and nationalist leader who led Pashtun fighters against British colonial forces, and who died in the early 1900s.

Ghazi, was deputy head of the Islamabad mosque who died in the siege.

A government official in Mohmand, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists, confirmed the militants had taken control of the shrine. He said authorities have sought the help of tribal elders to get the militants to leave the area.

The development adds to the growing sense of insecurity in Pakistan's lawless tribal regions, where President Gen. Pervez Musharraf is already under pressure to crack down on Taliban and Al Qaeda.

In the latest violence, three separate attacks killed six Pakistani troops and wounded five others in North Waziristan, where militants this month pulled out of a peace deal with the government. Four civilians were killed in crossfire when troops shot at a suspected car bomber.

Pro-Taliban militants have launched a wave of attacks in North Waziristan after pulling out of the September 2006 peace deal because the army redeployed forces at checkpoints in the region this month. Dozens of people have died, mostly security forces, in the violence.