ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Chunks of concrete are missing from the mosque’s minarets. The walls of a religious school painted with Islamic verses are peppered with bullet holes. Black flies swarm over a makeshift bunker, blasted apart under a stairwell.
A day after Pakistani commandos killed the last Islamic militants barricaded inside the Red Mosque complex, the army guided journalists around the shattered masonry and blackened interiors Thursday amid lingering questions over how many civilians died.
Officials say 108 people in all were killed during eight days of fighting that began with street battles between militants and security forces on July 3, but they haven’t provided a precise breakdown of casualties.
The government says 85 deaths occurred during the 35-hour battle that ended the siege, including nine soldiers and 19 bodies burned so severely they couldn’t be identified. It said earlier deaths included a soldier, a policeman, some militants and several civilians who were caught in the crossfire of the initial street fighting.
The military hoped to ease public skepticism and demonstrate how the heavily armed extremists turned one of the capital’s most prominent holy sites into a fortress.
Opening barriers of tangled barbed wire around the sprawling compound, soldiers escorted reporters through the bent-back metal gates of the Jamia Hafsa, a religious school for girls next door to the Red Mosque.
Signs of fierce room-to-room fighting were everywhere. Inside and out, the concrete and white plaster walls were riddled by gunshots from commandos who breached the southern walls of the four-story building and traded fire with its defenders.
Militants appeared to have prepared firing positions, some on the exterior fortified with sand bags. But the stiffest resistance came from basement rooms where pro-Taliban cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi was shot dead after refusing to surrender. He had spearheaded an increasingly violent vigilante campaign against vice in Islamabad.
The army said it had recovered 75 bodies inside the complex by late Thursday. Officials said none appeared to be women or children, but conceded that 19 bodies were burned beyond recognition.
Pakistani citizens and news media have questioned the government’s claim that virtually all noncombatants escaped harm during the savage fighting of the final battle, which began before dawn Tuesday and raged on for 35 hours.
“There’s no cover-up. Why should we?” Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani said.
Qazi Hussain Ahmed, chief of Pakistan’s biggest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, alleged Thursday that between 400 and 1,000 students and their teachers died in the army attack – but he offered no evidence. He said he would file a legal case against Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, over the deaths.
Thousands of girls and women aged from 4 into their early 20s studied the Quran at the Red Mosque school for females. There was also a school for young men.
The government said about 1,300 people fled unharmed during the weeklong standoff.
Around two courtyards inside the girls’ school, plain concrete rooms that once doubled as classrooms and sleeping quarters are littered with shattered glass and spent bullets. Bed rolls and school books were stacked against walls.
Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad pointed inside a small, charred, windowless room, saying a suicide bomber blew himself up with five or six hostages during the commando assault. He said the corpses were charred beyond recognition.
Next door, flies swarmed over chunks of masonry where militants had fashioned a bunker under a stairwell. It was not immediately clear if any human remains were underneath.
Arshad said a second suicide bomber detonated himself inside the white-domed Red Mosque – one of the most famous in the Pakistani capital.
Soldiers, who were still searching the complex for bodies and land mines, recovered two other suicide vests – one from the body of a fighter, Arshad said. The other was among an arsenal of the militants’ weapons and equipment that the army put on display.
Also on show were three crates of gasoline bombs fashioned from green Sprite bottles, gas masks, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, recoilless rifles, dozens of AK-47 assault rifles, pistols and two-way radios. Large plastic buckets held knives and homemade bombs the size of tennis balls.
The mosque sustained less damage than the school, although its entrance hall was burned out, the ceiling scorched and red walls above the oval doorway blackened. Daylight shone through hundreds of bullet holes in the corrugated roof.
The mosque’s two white minarets also had chunks of masonry missing. Arshad said militants had used them as vantage points. The white dome, however, appeared undamaged.
Arshad revealed that 164 commandos of the elite Special Services Group fought inside the mosque in the final battle, and said nearly a third of them became casualties – nine killed and about 40 wounded.
“With militants in different rooms, firing from behind pillars, and then going into basements and clearing it, you can understand the difficulties,” he said.
CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Hollywood, meet the Bible.
Zondervan, the Christian publishing giant, is launching the prequel to its critically acclaimed spoken-word Bible, “Inspired By … The Bible Experience” — an Old Testament version that will include a Hollywood cast with three Oscar winners, five Golden Globe winners and seven Emmy winners.
The Old Testament version will be similar to the New Testament version released last fall and includes dramatic performances set to an original musical score and Hollywood-style sound.
The New Testament version has sold more than 310,000 copies and has become the best-selling audio Bible. It also is one of the industry’s fastest-selling new Bibles.
“It’s evident that The Bible Experience’s universal appeal knows no boundaries, as evidenced by its remarkable sales, and we believe it is poised to have a long-term impact on the faith of millions of people,”
said Paul Caminiti, vice president and publisher of Bibles for Zondervan.
“Our mission is to introduce innovative projects that engage more people in the Bible, and The Bible Experience is doing just that by bringing the Bible to life like never before,” he added.
Highlighting the cast is 2007 Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker as the voice of Moses, along with Angela Bassett (Esther), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jonah), Denzel and Pauletta Washington (Song of Songs), LL Cool J (Samson) and Nick Cannon (Adam).
In addition to brisk sales, “Inspired By … The Bible Experience” has received national recognition, including numerous five-star reviews, Audiobook of the Year — the highest honor of the Audio Publisher’s Association — an AudioFile Earphones Award and a nomination for an NAACP Image Award.
Like the New Testament version, the Old Testament version is based on Zondervan’s Today’s New International Version Bible translation.
In addition to the Old Testament edition, the Complete Bible also will be available in stores nationwide this fall.
WASHINGTON – A Hindu clergyman made history Thursday by offering the U.S. Senate’s morning prayer, but only after police officers removed three shouting protesters from the visitors’ gallery.
Rajan Zed, director of interfaith relations at a Hindu temple, gave the brief prayer that opens each day’s Senate session. As he stood at the chamber’s podium in a bright orange and burgundy robe, two women and a man began shouting “this is an abomination” and other complaints from the gallery.
Police officers quickly arrested them and charged them with disrupting Congress, a misdemeanor. The male protester told an Associated Press reporter, “we are Christians and patriots” before police handcuffed them and led them away.
For several days, the Mississippi-based American Family Association has urged its members to object to the prayer because Zed would be “seeking the invocation of a non-monotheistic god.”
Zed, the first Hindu to offer the Senate prayer, began: “We meditate on the transcendental glory of the Deity Supreme, who is inside the heart of the Earth, inside the life of the sky and inside the soul of the heaven. May He stimulate and illuminate our minds.”
As the Senate prepared for another day of debate over the Iraq war, Zed closed with, “Peace, peace, peace be unto all.”
Zed, who was born in India, was invited by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat. Speaking in the chamber shortly after the prayer, Reid defended the choice and linked it to the war debate.
“If people have any misunderstanding about Indians and Hindus,” Reid said, “all they have to do is think of Gandhi,” a man “who gave his life for peace.”
“I think it speaks well of our country that someone representing the faith of about a billion people comes here and can speak in communication with our heavenly Father regarding peace,” said Reid, a Mormon and sharp critic of President Bush’s Iraq policies.
Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the protest “shows the intolerance of many religious right activists. They say they want more religion in the public square, but it’s clear they mean only their religion.”
Police identified the protesters as Ante Nedlko Pavkovic, Katherine Lynn Pavkovic and Christan Renee Sugar. Their ages and hometowns were not available.
NEW YORK – The American Psychological Association is embarking on the first review of its 10-year-old policy on counseling gays and lesbians, a step that gay-rights activists hope will end with a denunciation of any attempt by therapists to change sexual orientation.
Such efforts – often called reparative therapy or conversion therapy – are considered futile and harmful by many gay-rights activists. Conservative groups defend the right to offer such treatment, and say people with their viewpoint have been excluded from the review panel.
A six-member task force set up by the APA has its first meeting beginning next Tuesday.
Already, scores of conservative religious leaders and counselors, representing such groups as the Southern Baptist Convention and Focus on the Family, have written a joint letter to the APA, expressing concern that the task force’s proposals would not properly accommodate gays and lesbians whose religious beliefs condemn gay sex.
“We believe that psychologists should assist clients to develop lives that they value, even if that means they decline to identify as homosexual,” said the letter, which requested a meeting between APA leaders and some of the signatories.
APA spokeswoman Rhea Farberman said a decision on when and how to reply to the letter had not yet been made.
The current APA policy, adopted in 1997, opposes any counseling that treats homosexuality as a mental illness, but does not explicitly denounce reparative therapy. The APA has decided to review the policy at a time when gay-rights groups are increasingly critical of such treatment and groups that support it.
Conservatives contend that the review’s outcome is preordained because the task force is dominated by gay-rights supporters.
“We’re concerned,” said Carrie Gordon Earll of Focus on the Family. “The APA does not have a good track record of listening to other views.”
Joseph Nicolosi, a leading proponent of reparative therapy, predicted the task force would propose a ban of the practice – and he vowed to resist such a move. Nicolosi, who was rejected as a task force nominee, is president of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality.
Clinton Anderson, director of the APA’s Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns Office, insisted the panel would base its findings on scientific research, not ideology. He defended the decision to reject certain conservative applicants to the task force.
“We cannot take into account what are fundamentally negative religious perceptions of homosexuality – they don’t fit into our world view,” Anderson said.
One of the counselors denied a seat on the task force was Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College near Pittsburgh. Though Throckmorton doesn’t advocate a specific form of reparative therapy, he argues that psychologists should respect gay clients’ religious beliefs in cases where the faith teaches that homosexual behavior is wrong.
“We work with clients to pursue their chosen values,” he said. “If they are core, unwavering commitments to their religious belief, therapists should not try to persuade them differently under the guise of science.”
However, one of the task force members, New York City psychiatrist Jack Drescher, said the conservatives don’t acknowledge the harm that might be caused when a gay patient – even voluntarily – undergoes therapy to suppress or change sexual orientation.
“They want a rubber stamp of approval for a form of therapy that’s questionable in its efficacy and they don’t want to deal with the issue of harmful side effects,” said Drescher, who is editor of the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy.
As the APA planned the policy review, it received input from gay-rights groups, including Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
PFLAG’s executive director, Jody Huckaby, said reparative therapy had been particularly harmful for young gays whose parents insisted on trying to change their sexual orientation. His group contends these efforts can cause depression and suicidal behavior.
Current APA policy stipulates that no therapy should occur without “informed consent” of a gay or lesbian client. Jason Cianciotto of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said he hoped the APA would declare that no young person could ever be deemed to have given informed consent, and thus no reparative therapy would be approved for minors.
The largest ministry that does counsel gays to change their sexual orientation is Exodus International. Its president, Alan Chambers – who says prayer and therapy enabled him to move away from homosexuality – is among those apprehensive of the APA review.
“I had hoped for more diversity on that panel,” Chambers said. “I see a lot of people who represent the other side – who don’t believe that people like me have a right to self-determination.”
The task force may submit a preliminary report to the APA’s directors in December. Anderson said a final report might be completed by next March.