Pakistan Mosque Releases 2 of 4 Police Seized by Seminary Students

Authorities secured the release on Saturday of two of four policemen who were seized by religious students in Pakistan's capital, officials said.

The officers were abducted Friday when they were standing near an Islamic seminary in Islamabad, according to Abdul Rashid Ghazi, a cleric at the Lal Masjid or Red Mosque, which in recent months has launched its own anti-vice drive, challenging the authority of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's government.

On Saturday, Mohammed Anar, an area police official, said Ghazi had freed two of the policemen after talks with officials. He did not say when the remaining police were expected to be freed.

The releases came after Musharraf said in an interview aired by private Aaj television channel late Friday that militancy in Pakistan was increasing, and "we need to strongly counter it."

Musharraf did not elaborate.

Ghazi defended the action by his students, saying they detained the four officers because they were standing outside the seminary despite an agreement with authorities that police would not be deployed there.

He said the abductions were in retaliation for the detention of eight or nine seminary students by intelligence agents in the past two weeks. He said they freed the two policemen after police agreed to free their students.

"The remaining two policemen will also be freed soon," he told reporters.

The seizure of the police came as critics have accused Musharraf of appeasing the religious vigilantes, despite concerns that pro-Taliban hard-liners, intent on enforcing a stringent version of Islamic laws or Shariah, are gaining sway in Pakistan.

Last month, female students at Lal Masjid kidnapped an alleged brothel owner and forced her to make a confession as part of an anti-vice campaign. The mosque later declared it had set up its own Islamic court, and threatened music and movie shops to close.