(photo credit: )
A defiant cleric warned Pakistan authorities that a raid on his mosque where two policemen are being held captive by radical Islamic students would lead to a holy war against the government, as police detained dozens of students.
The abduction tops months of bold challenges by the Red Mosque to the authority of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's secular, military government.
Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said there were no plans to move against the mosque or a radical Islamic seminary attached to it in downtown Islamabad, adding Sunday that use of force to free the captured officers was a "last option."
But chief cleric at the mosque, Maulana Abdul Aziz, said police detained about 200 students and warned that a show of force by authorities would result in "jihad," or holy war.
Cheema said some people were "intercepted" to stop them from going to the Red Mosque, but they were expected to be freed later. He did not elaborate.
The two policemen were abducted Friday by students. Abdul Rashid Ghazi, a cleric at the mosque, said earlier Sunday they will only be released in return for the freedom of nine school students who are in government custody.
"Aziz has declared that if the government uses force we will wage jihad," Ghazi told reporters at the mosque.
Police diverted traffic from streets near the red-brick mosque, where dozens of stick-wielding students, many wearing prayer caps and turbans, had gathered.
Aziz used the mosque loudspeakers, typically used to amplify calls for prayers, to say, "We will not retreat. We will sacrifice our lives," as his supporters chanted "God is great" and "Holy war."
Ghazi said over the weekend that the students detained the officers because they were standing outside the seminary despite an agreement with authorities that police would not be deployed there. He added the abductions were in retaliation for the nine seminary students by intelligence agents in the past two weeks.
Hundreds of male and female students from the mosque's seminary in downtown Islamabad have recently carried out anti-vice campaigns in the relatively liberal capital, warning music shops and brothels to close.
Musharraf, a US ally who has been promoting a moderate Islam, on Friday acknowledged in a TV interview that militancy in Pakistan was increasing.