ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — When Pakistani troops stormed Lal Masjid, the Red Mosque, early Tuesday, the dead included fiery cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who had holed up with hardcore fighters and an unknown number of women and children.
McClatchy Newspapers' Tom Lasseter was one of the last Western reporters to interview Ghazi. Here are excerpts from the June 17 interview, conducted in a small concrete room on the mosque grounds:
Q: What is it that you want? What's the bottom line? Do you want to overthrow (Pakistan President Pervez) Musharraf?
A: We don't care if Musharraf remains or not — we don't want to change the face, we want to change the system. ...The system has failed; it is not working. The same people keep coming from the same families to rule the country, and they exploit everyone in Pakistan. We want to abolish this system; an Islamic system should be enforced. There comes a point when people stand up, when they rise up against the system. And that is the point we are at now.
Q: To what extent is your mosque involved in promoting jihadist fighters who slip into Afghanistan and Iraq?
A: I will tell you, frankly, that when we teach Islamic things, we teach jihad — when it becomes mandatory and who must go. So far as training is concerned, no, that does not happen here. But yes, they can go after (completing studies at Lal Masjid) and get training in different places. When our students ask us, as clerics, whether they should go to Iraq or Afghanistan, yes, we say, this is jihad, this is jihad to go fight the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Q: There are many who claim that Musharraf is manipulating you ... to take attention away from other problems. How do you respond?
A: We are acting on our own. But yes, Musharraf has been playing a game in which he fools both sides: On one side he is fooling America, and on the other side he is fooling the Pakistani people. To remain in power he is trying to keep a balance ...
Q: When you were 19, you traveled to Afghanistan with your father to meet Osama bin Laden. What did you think of him?
A: He is a nice man, soft-spoken, very logical, very convincing. We went to understand his point of view; I was convinced.
Q: What did you think about the attacks of Sept. 11? Do you still agree with bin Laden?
A: It is a difference of opinion, but I am not saying he is wrong. I do not think innocent people should be targeted. He has his own argument. I'm not saying he's totally wrong. I am not convinced on this issue, but otherwise, yes, I am convinced by him.
For example, there is an American enemy in Afghanistan and Iraq. I am convinced that American soldiers should be targeted and killed in whatever way possible. And in doing that, if some civilians are killed, but the main target is the enemy, it's OK. But if the main target is a market, is innocent people, then I do not agree. But both sides have their argument, both sides have their logic — there is no conclusion.
Q: If there was a delegation of Americans visiting your mosque today, what would you tell them?
A: How much money has been spent on the war on terror? If these billions had been spent on us, on basic education, on food, then we would love the Americans. The Americans are not getting benefit from Iraq or Afghanistan. Hatred will not bring you any positive results — hatred from Afghanis, hatred from Iraqis, hatred from Pakistanis.
Ghazi's parting words: "We are determined to the maximum. When we say we will sacrifice our life, we have hundreds, thousands of people who are ready, if the government tries to suppress them."