The radical leader of Islamabad’s Red Mosque, under siege for the last six days by hundreds of Pakistan troops, said the 1,800 children he claims are still in the religious-school complex have taken oaths on the Quran to fight to the death, a frightening possibility confirmed by frantic parents who have spoken by cell phone with sons and daughters who say they soon hope to be martyrs.

“I spoke to my daughter. She said there was no food or water left,” said Luftullah Khan, a shopkeeper, who was able to get through to them on their cell phone. “I tried to arrange a meeting, but she said, ‘We’re here – my dead body will be here. I will not leave my teachers’.”

Abdul Rashid Ghazi

Followers of Abdul Rashid Ghazi, leader of the pro-Taliban mosque, said yesterday 30 girls had been buried in a mass grave inside the complex.

The six-day siege has been mostly restrained, with the military wanting to avoid massive bloodshed. Children from two madrassas, or religious schools, are being held in the mosque. According to London Sunday Times, they have been moved to the basement of the complex.

Yesterday, the army shelled sections of the wall surrounding the complex, bringing them down, and fired tear gas at the militants, but avoided a direct attack on the mosque.

“We have reports that women and children have been locked in the basement floors. If we blow any of the walls, the whole building would collapse on them,” one officer told the Times.

While no fuel, food or water is getting into the complex, Ghazi’s followers say they have enough ammunition to hold out for 25 or 30 days.

Ghazi, who has said he and his followers will fight to the end, now says the 1,800 children he holds have been divided into two groups and will join his fighters against any assault.

“The boys are the first line of defense, then the girls,” he said. “They have all sworn an oath on the Koran that they will fight to the death.”

The standoff was sparked a week ago by Musharraf’s crackdown on the mosque after the increasingly militant group’s months-long campaign of intimidation in Islamabad, imposing Sharia law and punishment on the city’s citizens.

Yesterday, Musharraf, who reportedly escaped an assassination attempt when rockets were fired at his airplane, issued an ultimatum to the radicals: “People hiding in the Red Mosque should come out, otherwise they will get killed. Action will be taken against them if they don’t come out.”

Khan, the desperate father and shopkeeper, succeeded Friday in getting his two daughters to leave the compound with a ruse.

Reaching them once again by cell phone, he told them their mother was ill and lay unconscious on the pavement outside. The two girls left the compound and were taken by their father.

Saima, Khan’s 10-year-old daughter, denounced the trick.

“The teachers taught us about martyrdom and that it is a great achievement,” she told the Times. “I could see the fighting was in front of me and I could understand that we would die. I felt real anger about what my father did. He tricked me.”

“I’m taking them back to our village,” Khan said. “They were ready for martyrdom and they’re very angry with me. I’m just happy I’ve got my daughters back, and sorry for those whose daughters are still in there.”

According to Khan, Saima’s transformation had taken only eight weeks.

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