ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Islamabad's militant Red Mosque reopened Wednesday with a defiant call for Islamic law from its incarcerated prayer leader, nearly three months after an army raid there left more than 100 people dead.
Commandos attacked in July after tension over an increasingly violent anti-vice campaign led by the mosque's administrators boiled over into gunbattles with police.
The fighting focused concern about the spread of radical Islam in Pakistan, a politically volatile country already on the front line of the U.S.-led war on terror.
A first attempt to reopen the extensively repaired mosque in late July ended when students seized the building and a suicide bomber killed 13 people nearby. But the government tried again Wednesday on the orders of the Supreme Court, despite concern that it will again become a rallying point for militants.
In comments broadcast Wednesday, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said authorities would clamp down if militants tried to retake control.
"There should be good things done there, there should be prayers there," Musharraf said on Pakistan's Geo television. "No one will be allowed to take it over."
After police cut barbed wire and removed metal barriers around the mosque, some 3,000 people responded to the noon call for prayer, filling the main hall and the repaved yard outside.
Students from an affiliated religious school frisked those entering and a man appealed to worshippers via loudspeaker for calm. However, the sermons and the tearful reaction they evoked showed that their sympathies were with the radicals.
After a speech by a nephew of imam, or prayer leader, Maulana Abdul Aziz, several students shouted out in joy when a moderator announced a taped address from the imam.
Some chanted "What is our goal? Sharia or martyrdom!" and "Allah is the only superpower!" before orderlies hurried to ask them to be quiet.
Aziz was caught fleeing the mosque at the height of the siege, concealed beneath a woman's burqa. His brother, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, died in the fighting along with dozens of troops and suspected militants. Critics of the raid allege that hundreds of innocent students were also killed.
In his message, Aziz urged his followers to continue campaigning for the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law, in honor of fallen comrades.
"Their sacrifice lit the candle for sharia in the entire country," Aziz said. "We were peaceful, we are peaceful and we will remain peaceful, but our movement will continue."
The worshippers, some of whom wept openly during the prayers, dispersed afterward. Several tried to cross barbed wire to reach the plot where the mosque's seminary for girls had stood until it was badly damaged during the raid and then demolished.
A handful of uniformed police watched from a distance.
Students supervising the reopening along with Aziz's wife said their main concern was restoring the sanctity of the mosque.
However, others called for officials, including President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to stand trial for the raid.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday also ordered authorities to rebuild the girl's seminary, whose students were prominent in a Taliban-style morality campaign that included the kidnapping of alleged prostitutes from a Chinese beauty spa and issuing a fatwa, or religious decree, condemning a government minister for hugging a French skydiving instructor.