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Pakistan On 'Red Alert' After Red Mosque Leader Killed

As the siege on Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad continues, the death of Abdul Rashid Ghazi at the hands of Pakistani government forces has caused the government to put Pakistan on "Red Alert," vigilant for an expected backlash from Pakistani Islamists.

Pakistani forces are proceeding cautiously, refusing to simply storm the basement where the remaining Lal Masjid combatants are holed up. The compound has been extensively booby-trapped, especially the pathways leading to where the terrorists have barricaded themselves in a last stand. And so the final Red Mosque confrontation continues for at least another day, perhaps several more.

Reaction to the siege of Lal Masjid in the Pakistani press is mixed, with Islamist outlets condemning the action and others cautiously praising the government's confrontation of pro-Taliban Islamists.

US State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said Pakistani authorities had "proceeded in a responsible way on this issue," adding that "ultimately all governments have a responsibility to preserve order and to try and take steps against terrorists and those that commit criminal actions, too."

UPDATE: In unexpectedly rapid succession, Pakistani authorities have declared the Red Mosque cleared of all combatants inside, and the next phase of the operation has commenced: Clearing the compound of booby-traps, mines and other explosives. Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad said in a phone interview, "The first phase of the operation is over. There are no more militants left inside."

Israeli Intel: 'Iran Nuclear By 2009,' US Reducing Gulf Carrier Presence

The US Navy will be drawing down its aircraft carrier commitment in the Persian Gulf, as the USS Enterprise arrives to relieve the carrier USS Nimitz. The USS John Stennis, also currently in the Persian Gulf, is slated to leave by the end of the summer, leaving just one carrier, the USS Enterprise, to remain in the Gulf. While there will temporarily be a concentration of three aircraft carrier battle groups during the transition, a US Navy spokesman "said the arrival of the USS Enterprise should not be understood as an escalation in the Gulf," referring to suggestions that it signals a potential hardening stance against Iran. Escalation with three carriers in the Persian Gulf leaves the Navy exposed to the risk of having them confined without exit if Iran were to sink tankers and block the Strait of Hormuz as it has threatened in the past. Such confinement would cripple US ability to immediately project force throughout the region and the world, a risk military planners are likely unwilling to take.

Israeli Military Intelligence said Tuesday that Iran will cross nuclear threshold by 2009 and have the capability to produce nuclear weapons within the next two years. There had been speculation that the American carrier concentration may have represented US posturing for strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities. But there is little indication of any hardening of the US Administration's stance against Tehran, relying still upon UN Security Council procedure and further sanctions.

Israeli Military Intelligence also said that with a nuclear deterrent, Iran's support for terrorism will become more open.

Meanwhile, reacting to a recent al-Qaida threat against it, Iran says that it is prepared to meet any al-Qaeda threat. Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi said such threats are "new thing" and that Iran's "security and law enforcement apparatus have been ready to defend the country." Many counterterrorism analysts - including ThreatsWatch - view the threat from al-Qaeda in Iraq with skepticism.

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