Pakistan authorities arrested radical Islamic students mobilizing to protect a mosque where two policemen are being held captive, as a defiant top school cleric warned a raid would lead to a holy war against the government.
The abduction tops months of bold challenges by the mosque to the authority of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's secular, military government.
Authorities have no plans to move against the Red Mosque or a radical Islamic seminary attached to it in downtown Islamabad, said Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema, adding the use of force to free the captured police was a "last option."
But Red Mosque chief Maulana Abdul Aziz said over the mosque loudspeakers that police detained about 200 students.
Cheema told the Associated Press 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 in the day that 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 have diverted traffic from streets near the red-brick mosque, where dozens of stick-wielding students, many wearing prayer caps and turbans.
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.
Last month, female students at a school related to the mosque kidnapped an alleged brothel owner and forced her to make a public confession. The mosque later declared it had set up its own Islamic court, and threatened music and movie shops to close.
Earlier in the day, Islamabad police chief Chaudhry Iftikhar Ahmed warned the students that the government was considering all options, including the use of force, to secure the officers' freedom.
"We would like that ... they release the policemen so that the government does not have to make use of force," Ahmed told the AP.
Cheema reiterated late Sunday the government wanted to resolve abduction peacefully through negotiations.
Musharraf, a U.S. ally who has been promoting a moderate Islam, on Friday acknowledged in a TV interview that militancy in Pakistan was increasing.
Musharraf is under increasing pressure from Islamic fundamentalists who see him as a pawn of the United States, as well as believers in a secular, democratic government, who are outraged with the military leader's recent suspension of the chief justice.