ISLAMABAD - A radical Pakistani cleric called on Friday for the imposition of Islamic rule across Pakistan and the world and hinted at the use of force if he and his followers were obstructed.
Militant violence and the spread of Taleban influence are raising fears about the stability of nuclear-armed Pakistan, a vital US ally in its efforts to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan.
Cleric Abdul Aziz returned to the Red Mosque in the heart of Islamabad to hold Friday prayers with up to 3,000 supporters a day after he was freed from nearly two years of detention.
The release of the former chief cleric of the Red Mosque, for years an Islamist hub in the capital, is a boost for Pakistani militants and came days after the government effectively ceded control of the northwestern Swat region to them.
More than 100 people were killed when commandos stormed the Red Mosque complex after a week-long standoff in July 2007, sparking a sustained surge in militant attacks that has intensified in recent months.
“God willing, our sacrifices will not go in vain and the religion of Islam will be implemented not only in Pakistan but all over the world,” Aziz told followers crammed into the mosque and spilling out onto the street.
“We are peaceful people but if our way is blocked then you have witnessed the scenes in Swat and in FATA,” he said, referring to the violence-plagued ethnic Pashtun Federally Administered Tribal Areas on the Afghan border.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ordered Aziz’s release from house arrest on 200,000 rupees ($2,500) bail. His lawyer said 27 cases had been filed against him and bail had been granted earlier in 25 of them while one case had been dropped. The Red Mosque had for years been the Islamabad centre of a militant network with links to Pakistani Taleban strongholds in the northwest and into Afghanistan.
Aziz was well known for his fiery sermons, even threatening to unleash suicide bombers against his movement’s enemies. - Reuters