Security was tightened in the Pakistani capital Friday as officials prepared to reopen the radical mosque where a standoff with Islamic militants ended in bloodshed more than two weeks ago when troops stormed in.
Extra police took up posts around Islamabad, as workers installed airport-style metal detectors at the Red Mosque, or Lal Masjid, to check worshippers for weapons.
Tents were pitched in the courtyard of the downtown mosque to cope with an overflow of worshippers. Thousands were expected to attend traditional midday prayers as monsoon-season rain drizzled on the city.
Barbed wire ringed part of the complex where militants holed up for a week before government troops launched their assault on July 10, leaving the mosque pocked with bullet holes and damaged by explosions.
At least 102 people were killed in the violence, which has triggered a flare-up in attacks by militants in northwestern Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan. About 200 others have since died in the suicide bombings and clashes, many of them security forces.
The government moved quickly to have the mosque repaired after the siege, amid outrage in this deeply religious country that a sacred place had been the scene of violence.
It has been repainted - in pale yellow instead of red - and the roof that was destroyed by fighting during the siege has been rebuilt. A girl's seminary that was part of the compound and was badly damaged in the siege has been demolished. Piles of rubble remain near the mosque.
Minister for Religious Affairs Ijazul Haq on Thursday led officials and journalists through the repaired mosque and announced it would reopen Friday.
"We hope this kind of tragedy will not happen in the country in the future," Haq said.
The remarks from the Pope came as "a very strong step towards degradation," "given the rather massive nature of homosexuality" among the Catholic clergy.