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Human Shields At Pakistan's Red Mosque

Reuters reports that the Pakistani government says women and children are being used as human shields inside Islamabad's Lal Masjid (Red Mosque).

Women and children were being used as human shields by militants besieged in a mosque in Islamabad, the Pakistan government said on Thursday as security forces ratcheted up pressure on hundreds inside to surrender.

Pakistan's Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim Khan said the few students who had quit the mosque spoke of a nightmare scenario for security forces trying to keep casualties down.

"A large number of women and children are being held hostage by armed men in room," Khan told a news conference, adding that the brother of the captured cleric was hiding in the basement of an attached madrassa with 25 "women hostages".

"Yes, they're using them as human shields, because the people who have come out, they told us that they're telling women and children not to worry because as long as you're here forces will not attack us," he said.

On one hand, it is in the interests of the Pakistani government to portray the pro-Taliban, pro-al-Qaeda Islamists domestically in as bad a light as possible. But on the other, it is not as if there is not a precedent for such tactics, nor is it a tactic that could be considered beneath the Taliban, al-Qaeda or their supporters.

Recall that it was reported yesterday that public sentiment in the area was swaying against the mosque and its followers. Also recall the mosque and madrassa claims of hundreds of (unmaterialized) female suicide bombers inside. If there were a time to employ them, one would think that it would have been in this scenario.

There is likely much validity to the human shield claims, though some will dismiss it as Pakistani government propaganda.