Pakistan authorities have issued a warrant for the arrest of a controversial cleric who is accused of supporting the Taliban. Maulana Abdul Aziz, popularly known as “Mullah Burqa”, is a cleric at the Red Mosque in Islamabad. He rose to fame in 2007 following his failed attempt to flee a military raid on the Red Mosque while wearing a burqa. He was captured and paraded through the capital live on state-run television. In his sermon on December 19, the cleric allegedly said that last week’s massacre of 149 people — mostly children — at a school in Peshawar was a justified act of retaliation by the Taliban. He also allegedly referred to the Taliban as “our brothers” and denounced the ongoing military offensive against them as un-Islamic. In response, several hundred rights activists, secular politicians and other protesters gathered outside the Red Mosque and in Karachi at the weekend to demand the cleric’s arrest for supporting a terrorist group. A warrant was issued on Sunday but on Monday the cleric had yet to be detained. “The army is fighting to reclaim our borders, and we the people, need to fight alongside them to reclaim our communities, towns and cities from extremists,” Jibran Nasir, chief organizer of the Islamabad protests, said on Sunday. “This man [Aziz] proudly admits his contacts with terror networks. We as Pakistanis should be ashamed of ourselves for letting him live freely,” he said. Nasir said that his objective was to transform the protest into a national movement against other clerics who are spreading hatred and supporting terrorists and their backers. Meanwhile, Altaf Hussain, the London-based chief of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a Karachi-based secular political party, urged the government to demolish the mosque, which he said, was being used by Taliban sympathizers to stoke extremism. “Aziz should be arrested and put on trial for high treason. People like him and some religious seminaries are a breeding ground for terrorists," he said on Sunday. Aziz hit back on Sunday by releasing a video statement, calling for the politician to end his exile and return to Pakistan to face the consequences. Hussain has been accused, by cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan among others, of inciting communal violence and soliciting murder following riots in Karachi in 2007. “You talk about demolishing the Red Mosque and Jamia Hafsa, an affiliated seminary. The Mujahideen of Allah and Islam are alive.... Whoever dares to cause any harm to the Allah’s house, he will meet his end,” he said. MQM promptly registered a case against the cleric for issuing threats.
Rights groups condemn executions
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Meanwhile, rights groups have condemned Pakistan's decision to hang four convicted militants in its first executions for six years. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif relinquished the six-year ban on the death penalty in terror-related cases two days after the Peshawar school attack. Two militants convicted of separate terrorism offences faced the noose on Friday. Four more were hanged in the eastern city of Faisalabad on Sunday. New York-based Human Rights Watch termed the executions "a craven politicized reaction to the Peshawar killings" and called for a moratorium on capital punishment to be reinstated. "Pakistan's government has chosen to indulge in vengeful blood-lust instead of finding and prosecuting those responsible for the horrific Peshawar attack," the group said in a statement Saturday. Pakistan plans to execute some 500 militants in the coming weeks, officials said Monday, according to AFP. Additional reporting by AFP