Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’

Bomber attacks Somalia police academy — Overlooked extremist hotbed about to get more attention?

December 14, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | The Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shabaab lost its foothold in Mogadishu in 2011 but has continued its fight, launching regular attacks on military, government and civilian targets in the Somali capital and elsewhere

MOGADISHU (AFP) – A suicide bomber blew himself up inside the main police academy in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu on Thursday with several people feared dead, police said.Witnesses said the police were gathering for their early morning parade, and were crowded in an open square when the bomber attacked.

“A man wearing an explosive vest entered the camp disguised as a policeman, and blew himself up,” police officer Mohamed Abdulle said. “There are casualties, and many injuries.”

Abdulle did not immediately have a toll for the number killed but said he feared there could be several dead.

“Medical rescuers are still working on evacuating the casualties,” Abdulle said.

The police camp is Somalia’s biggest police academy.

“Some of the police were already in lines, and others were gathering, when the man in police uniform entered and blew himself up,” said bystander Hussein Ali. “Ambulances have been rushing the wounded away and taking the dead bodies.”

There was no immediate claim of responsiblity for the attack.

However, the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shabaab has repeatedly attacked police officers in its decade-old battle to overthrow successive internationally-backed governments in Mogadishu.

The Shabaab lost its foothold in Mogadishu in 2011 but has continued its fight, launching regular attacks on military, government and civilian targets in the capital and elsewhere.

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In Somalia, an Overlooked Extremist Hotbed Simmers

A Somali man reacted after an Oct. 14 bombing in Mogadishu.
A Somali man reacted after an Oct. 14 bombing in Mogadishu. PHOTO: MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

The U.S. is ramping up airstrikes on al-Shabaab, which controls roughly 30% of the country

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MOGADISHU, Somalia—Maimed in the war between Somalia’s government and al Qaeda’s affiliate al-Shabaab, the patients of De Martino Hospital prefer not to talk about what happened to them.

“Everybody’s afraid,” the hospital’s director, Abdi Ibrahim Jiya, said as he walked through a ward filled with recent arrivals. “If you complain and are for the government, you’re afraid of the Shabaab. And if you complain and are for the Shabaab, you’re afraid of the government.”

Such is the balance of fear in Somalia’s capital, a bustling city of three million people where, despite years of international military efforts to stamp out Islamic extremists, security remains elusive and government authority fleeting. In October, Mogadishu was hit by Africa’s deadliest terrorist attack—a truck bombing that killed more than 500 people.

Outside Mogadishu, things are worse. Al-Shabaab controls roughly 30% of the country’s territory, Somali government officials estimate. Alongside Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan, that is the world’s largest swath of real estate that remains under jihadist sway since the recent demise of Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

It is also one with a coastline that is easily accessible and as vast as the eastern seaboard of the U.S.

“You look at fighters leaving the Levant as ISIS collapses in Iraq and Syria, and the question is: Where do these fighters end up?” said a U.S. military official familiar with Somalia operations. “Al-Shabaab owns a territory in Somalia that may be a place where they go and that’s something that we’re trying to work with the federal government of Somalia to prevent.”

With key global shipping lanes nearby, a tradition of piracy and proximity to Yemen—another al Qaeda stronghold just across the Gulf of Aden—Somalia isn’t attracting nearly enough international attention, warn senior Western officials involved with the country.

A Somali soldier patrolled next to the wreckage of a car in April.
A Somali soldier patrolled next to the wreckage of a car in April. PHOTO: MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

“Somalia continues to be a global strategic threat. But, with other international crises, it’s being treated as a sideshow,” said Alexander Rondos, the European Union’s special representative for the Horn of Africa.

That is beginning to change under President Donald Trump’s administration. In recent months, the U.S. military began focusing more on Somalia, which has lived through three decades of war and has haunted American policy makers ever since the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” debacle in Mogadishu.

There are now more than 500 U.S. troops operating in Somalia, according to the Pentagon, many of them special operations forces. The U.S. has also dramatically accelerated the pace of airstrikes against al-Shabaab. In one such recent drone attack on Nov. 21, the U.S. said it killed more than 100 militants after targeting an al-Shabaab camp northwest of Mogadishu.

Operating mostly in central and southern Somalia, al-Shabaab has also launched bloody raids in neighboring Kenya and Uganda. The group, which formally became part of al Qaeda in 2012, can field some 9,000 core fighters on Somalia’s battlefields, according to U.S. military estimates.

Unlike some other major Islamist extremist groups such as Nigeria’s Boko Haram, al-Shabaab refused to reflag itself as a “province” of Islamic State when that movement was ascendant in 2014. A separate Islamic State-linked group in Somalia counts roughly 100-200 men and operates mostly in the northern Puntland region, according to the U.S. military.

Much of the fighting against al-Shabaab is currently done by 22,000 African Union troops from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. That African force, however, has suffered horrendous casualties at the hands of the militant group and is beginning to pull out.

To the embattled government of Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, widely known as “Farmajo,” the U.S. represents the best hope for stemming extremist advances.

“If we don’t have the support of the Americans, we cannot stand on our own feet,” said Somalia’s state minister of defense, Mohamed Ali Haga. “The Somali security sector is still disorganized. And we need more drone strikes because a drone can strike the snake in the head.”

On paper, the new U.S.-funded Somali National Army counts some 27,000 men—more than enough to tackle al-Shabaab. Only a fraction of that number, however, is combat ready and actually shows up for duty, Western and Somali officials say. With the exception of a small, U.S.-mentored elite unit, the Somali military only has rudimentary weapons and isn’t capable of mounting operations on its own, they say.

“Al-Shabaab are better trained and got whatever they need while the SNA is neither armed nor trained nor paid properly,” said Jawahir Abdi, a lawmaker representing Somalia’s South West state. “At the moment, the government is not winning at all.”

It has been five months since a government supply convoy last managed to reach the South West state’s capital of Baidoa, said the state president’s chief of staff, Ali Ali.

“Al-Shabaab move freely from town to town, from region to region, while the government sits in an open jail. Those with the government can only fly in and fly out. To go by road, you need to have some kind of relationship with al-Shabaab,” Mr. Ali said.

The group’s readiness to kill to enforce its rules means that ordinary Somalis in areas of al-Shabaab influence—including in Mogadishu—are usually reluctant to cooperate with authorities.

“If people want to inform the government about them, they will be slaughtered just to make an example for others,” said Hassan Mo’alim Hussein, Somalia’s state minister of security. “Al-Shabaab are ruthless.”

Challenging the Somali government’s ability to control Mogadishu is al-Shabaab’s key priority—and the group frequently attacks restaurants and hotels that house politicians, government officials and the few foreigners who dare stay in the city.

The likelihood of kidnapping or attack means that Westerners usually move in Mogadishu in armored vehicles and under the escort of several gunmen. Though new buildings and neighborhoods have come up and the international airport has reopened, much of Mogadishu’s city center—built mostly during Italian colonial times—lies in ruins.

A new area of devastation was created on Oct. 14. Even by al-Shabaab’s standards, the truck bombing at a crowded junction outside the capital’s Safari Hotel was particularly gruesome.

The explosion flattened an entire neighborhood with restaurants, part of the hotel and other buildings collapsing onto their patrons. Somali and Western officials say the bomb likely exploded prematurely, which is why al-Shabaab didn’t claim responsibility for the attack.

Somalis are renowned for their resilience and, at the site of the bombing, a temporary tea shop has already sprung up to replace the destroyed parts of the Safari Hotel. On a recent afternoon, a few dozen men sat there in the shade of the gazebo, drinking milky Somali tea. The intersection was busy again.

“Whatever they do, they cannot stop the will of the people,” said the Safari Hotel’s co-owner, Abdelrazzak Ali, who survived the bombing. “Life will continue, we will rebuild and it will be better than before.”

Even in a city used to bloodshed, the October attack has caused an unusual outpouring of anger against al-Shabaab—an emotional wave that the Somali government hopes to capitalize on.

“This has unified people and has become a turning point,” said Mogadishu’s Mayor Thabit Mohamed. “This showed to the people of Mogadishu: Whether you talk or not, whether you give information to the government or not, you are a target.”

Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at yaroslav.trofimov@wsj.com

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Pakistani army: Militants attack patrol, killing 2 soldiers

December 12, 2017

Pakistan troops on patrol in Waziristan. (AFP)

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s army says militants opened fire on an army vehicle on patrol in the country’s mountainous northwestern region near the Afghan border, killing two soldiers.

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Tuesday’s statement says the military vehicle came under attack in the North Waziristan tribal region. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but Islamic militants have long been operating in the area.
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The military has carried out massive operation against them but militants are able to cross the porous Afghan-Pakistan border and shelter on the other side. They have also been able to carry out cross-border attacks.
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The Pakistani army has been constructing a series of fences along the border, which zigzags across a remote and difficult mountain terrain, to check the movement of militants.
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Afghanistan objects to the construction of the fences.

Britain’s MI5 foils Islamist terror plot to kill the Prime Minister — Two men have been charged with terror offences

December 6, 2017

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Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May. Reuters.

The security services have foiled an alleged plot to assassinate the Prime Minister in Downing Street, it has emerged.

An Islamic extremist planned to use an improvised explosive device to blow up the gates of Downing Street before entering No 10 and making an attempt on Theresa May’s life.

Two men have been charged with terror offences and are due to appear in Westminster magistrates’ court.

Details of the alleged terror plot were set out to Cabinet members on Tuesday during a briefing by Andrew Parker, the head of MI5. Mr Parker revealed that British intelligence had foiled nine terror plots in the past 12 months.

Image result for Andrew Parker, MI5, photos

Andrew Parker, the head of MI5

The disclosures about the charges came just hours after an official report into the Manchester terror attack revealed that the suicide bomber had been flagged for closer scrutiny by security services and that the atrocity could have been averted “had the cards fallen differently”.

MI5 investigators misinterpreted intelligence on Salman Abedi earlier this year and it was disclosed his case was due to be discussed at a meeting scheduled for nine days after his May attack at the Manchester Arena.

Salmam Abedi

The report suggested Salman Abedi’s attack in Manchester could have been stopped CREDIT: AFP/GETTY

Internal reviews into the police and MI5’s handling of the four terrorist attacks in Britain this year also revealed one of the London Bridge attackers had been under active investigation by the Security Service.

After the Westminster attack

The Westminster Bridge attacker, Khalid Masood, had also watched suicide attack videos on YouTube in the days before he carried out his assault.

David Anderson QC, a former terrorism law reviewer asked by the Home Secretary to independently check the secret internal reviews, said they were “no cause for despair” and that most attack plots continued to be broken up.

In response to his 61-page report, Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, said the blame for the attacks “lies squarely” with the terrorists.

The reviews found that 22-year-old Abedi had previously been a MI5 suspect, but was not under active investigation when he blew himself up among the crowd at an Ariana Grande concert.

Tributes to the Manchester terror attack, which killed 22 people

Tributes to the Manchester terror attack, which killed 22 people CREDIT: BEN STANSALL /AFP

In advance of the attack, officers had on two separate occasions received unspecified intelligence on him “whose significance was not fully appreciated at the time” and which could have led to his case being reopened.

“In retrospect, the intelligence can be seen to have been highly relevant to the planned attack,” the report said.

Mr Anderson concluded that while it was “unknowable” if reopening the investigation would have thwarted Abedi, it was “conceivable that the Manchester attack in particular might have been averted had the cards fallen differently”.

Between March and June, London and Manchester experienced four attacks killing a total of 36 people and wounding another 200.

Abedi had first become an MI5 “subject of interest” in 2014, but it transpired he had been mistaken for someone else and his case was closed. It was reopened the following year on mistaken intelligence that he had contacted an Islamic State figure in Libya.

But though his case remained closed from that point, Abedi “continued to be referenced from time to time in intelligence gathered for other purposes. In two separate instances before the attack, intelligence was received that was “assessed at the time to relate not to terrorism, but to possible non-nefarious activity or to criminality”.

An automated trawl of suspects’ data designed to spot closed cases that may need re-examining identified him as one of fewer than 100 individuals “out of a total of more than 20,000 closed subjects of interest, who merited further examination”.

“A meeting (arranged before the attack) was due to take place on May 31: Salman Abedi’s case would have been considered, together with the others identified. The attack intervened on May 22.”

Mr Anderson said: “With the benefit of hindsight, intelligence was misinterpreted in early 2017.”

MI5’s internal investigation concluded that the decision not to reopen an investigation into Abedi in early 2017 was “finely balanced” and “understandable”. Reviewers decided that “on the clear balance of professional opinion, a successful pre-emption of the gathering plot would have been unlikely”.

Across all of the incidents, three of the six attackers “were on MI5’s radar”. Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, said the report “will be a difficult read for everyone in Manchester and most particularly for the  bereaved families and those still recovering from the attack”.

He said the report was obviously the result of “a lot of soul searching” on behalf of MI5 and the police. He said: “I accept its conclusion that there is no way of knowing whether the Manchester attack could have been stopped.

“But it is clear that things could – and perhaps should – have been done differently.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/12/05/mi5-foils-islamist-terror-plot-kill-prime-minister/

Gulf rulers boycotting Qatar skip GCC annual summit

December 5, 2017

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Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani gestures as he poses for a family photo during the annual summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), in Kuwait City, Kuwait, December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed Reuters

By Ahmed Hagagy

KUWAIT (Reuters) – Qatar’s Emir said on Tuesday he hoped a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Kuwait would help maintain stability in the region, Al-Jazeera TV said, though four Arab heads of state involved in a rift with Qatar stayed away.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt which have imposed economic, diplomatic and trade sanctions on Qatar in a dispute that began in June, sent ministers or deputy prime ministers instead to the annual event.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, who with Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah were the only heads of state to attend the meeting, acknowledged that the summit took place in “highly sensitive circumstances” in the life of the GCC.

“I am full of hope that the summit will lead to results that will maintain the security of the Gulf and its stability,” Tamim said, according to the Doha-based Al-Jazeera.

Sheikh Sabah, opening the summit, called for a mechanism to be set up in the Western-backed grouping to resolve disputes among its members.

Relations within the Gulf have soured since the four Arab states accused Qatar of supporting terrorism. Qatar had denied the charges.

Kuwait, which had spearheaded unsuccessful mediation efforts since the rift began, had hoped the summit would provide an opportunity for leaders to meet face-to-face and discuss the crisis, according to two Gulf diplomats.

Earlier, the UAE said it would set up a bilateral cooperation committee with Saudi Arabia, separate from the GCC, on political, economic and military issues.

UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan said the new committee would be chaired by Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, Mohammed Bin Zayed, state news agency WAM reported.

Saudi Arabia has not yet commented.

The proposal also coincides with an escalation in the conflict in Yemen, where both Saudi Arabia and the UAE are heavily involved. Veteran former president Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed in a roadside attack on Monday after switching sides in Yemen’s civil war, abandoning his Iran-aligned Houthi allies in favor of a Saudi-led coalition.

Founded in 1980 as a bulwark against bigger neighbors Iran and Iraq, the GCC is facing an existential crisis after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt accused Qatar of supporting terrorism, charges Doha denies.

(Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

US urges Pakistan to ‘redouble’ counter-terrorism efforts – or let CIA do it — “Taliban fighters are living in comfort outside of their country with plenty of drug money.”

December 5, 2017

RT — Formerly Russia Today

US urges Pakistan to ‘redouble’ counter-terrorism efforts – or let CIA do it

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis urges more efforts on counter-terrorism from Pakistan’s government leaders, including Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Defense Minister Khuram Dastgir, December 4, 2017. U.S. DoD photo

Washington has urged Islamabad to “redouble” its efforts in fighting terrorists. And while Pakistan insists that “no safe heavens” exist in the Central Asian country, the CIA over the weekend vowed to fight terrorism with or without Islamabad.

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On Monday, US Defense Secretary James Mattis arrived in Pakistan, seeking to convince Islamabad to get onboard with the Trump administration’s “Afghanistan strategy.” In a speech in August, President Donald Trump slammed Pakistan for “sheltering terrorists” and threatened to reduce the aid to the country if it continues to “harbor criminals and terrorists.” While Islamabad has repeatedly rejected such accusations, on Monday Mattis once again called on Pakistan to do more to fight jihadists.

“The Secretary reiterated that Pakistan must redouble its efforts to confront militants and terrorists operating within the country,” the Pentagon said in a statement after Mattis met with a number of Pakistani officials, including Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Defense Minister Khuram Dastgir.

 

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis recognizing Pakistan’s sacrifices in the war against terrorism, emphasized the vital role that can play in working with the and others to facilitate a peace process in .


Mattis is the second senior US official, after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, to have visited the country in recent months as the US revamps its counter-terrorism strategy in the region. Pakistan enjoys certain privileges as one of 16 nations that Washington introduced to a “Non-NATO Major Allies” club. As a member of this group, Pakistan receives billions of dollars in aid and access to US military technology. Pakistan may, however, potentially lose such privileges if it diverges from the US course.

READ MORE: US wants Pakistan military force in Afghanistan but won’t pay the cost – former intelligence chief

On Monday, the government in Islamabad reiterated that it does not protect or harbor extremists, less than a week after the Pentagon accused the country of doing almost nothing to fight the Afghan Taliban, including the Haqqani Network.

“The prime minister reiterated that there are no safe havens in Pakistan and the entire nation was committed to its resolve on eradicating terrorism once and for all in all its forms and manifestations,” the Pakistani government said in a statement.

Prime Minister Abbasi also noted that no other country “benefits more” from stability in Afghanistan than Pakistan. He stressed that both the US and Pakistan have “common stakes in securing peace and security in Afghanistan for the long term stability of the broader region.”

Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa told Mattis that the Pakistani military and security forces “have eliminated safe havens from Pakistan’s soil,” but added that the Pakistanis are “prepared to look into the possibility of miscreants exploiting Pakistan’s hospitality to the Afghan refugees to the detriment of our Afghan brothers.”

Statements made by Pakistani officials contradict the assessment voiced by the commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan, who last week accused the Taliban fighters of “living in comfort outside of the country with plenty of drug money.”

Gen. John Nicholson told reporters Tuesday that the US has not seen Pakistan implement any changes, despite being pressured by Trump to do so.

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“We are hoping to work together with the Pakistanis going forward to eliminate terrorists who are crossing the Durand Line,” Nicholson said. “The offensive operations against sanctuaries would be in other areas that we’ve identified with the Pakistani leadership on a number of occasions.”

READ MORE: No troop pullout, threats to Pakistan in Trump speech on new Afghanistan strategy (VIDEO)

Reassurance voiced by the Pakistani officials comes just days after Mike Pompeo, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) explained that the US “will do everything it can to ensure they don’t exist anymore.”

“In the absence of the Pakistanis achieving that, we are going to do everything we can to make sure that that safe haven no longer exists,” Pompeo said, according to the Voice of America.

https://www.rt.com/usa/411940-pakistan-redouble-terrorism-fight/

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Bus Bomb Kills 8 in Syria’s Homs

December 5, 2017
BY REUTERS
 DECEMBER 5, 2017 13:59

A string of bombings have struck cities under government control in Syria this year, including the capital Damascus.

People and security personnel look on at the area of a blast in Homs, Syria December 5, 2017

People and security personnel look on at the area of a blast in Homs, Syria December 5, 2017. (photo credit: SANA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

BEIRUT – A bomb blast killed eight people and injured 16 others on a bus in Syria’s Homs on Tuesday, state media said, citing the city’s health authority.

Islamic State claimed the attack, saying the blast killed 11 members of the Syrian army, its official news agency AMAQ said.

Many of the passengers were university students, Homs Governor Talal Barazi told state-run Ikhbariya TV. The blast in the government-held city hit the Akrama district, near al-Baath university.

Footage showed people crowding around the burned shell of a vehicle in the middle of a street. State television said “a bomb that terrorists planted in a passenger bus exploded.” Islamic State militants had claimed responsibility for a similar attack in Homs in May, when a car bomb killed four people and injured 32 others.

A string of bombings have struck cities under government control in Syria this year, including the capital Damascus. The Tahrir al-Sham alliance — led by fighters formerly linked to al-Qaeda — has also claimed some of the deadly attacks.

“Security agencies are constantly chasing sleeper cells,” the Homs police chief said on Ikhbariya. “Today, it could be a sleeper cell or it could be an infiltration.” Barazi, the governor, said the state’s enemies were trying to target stability as “the stage of victory” drew near.

The city of Homs went back under full government control in May, for the first time since the onset of Syria’s conflict more than six years ago. Hundreds of Syrian rebels and civilians were evacuated from the city’s last opposition district, al-Waer, which the army and allied forces had besieged.

With the help of Russian jets and Iran-backed militias, the Damascus government has pushed back rebel factions in western Syria, shoring up its rule over the main urban centers. The army and allied forces then marched eastwards against Islamic State militants this year.

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Car bomb blast kills eight in Syria’s Homs

December 5, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Civilians watch as security and rescue workers collect the bodies of victims of a car bomb explosion in a predominantly pro-government neighbourhood of the central Syrian city of Homs on December 5, 2107

BEIRUT (AFP) – An explosives-laden bus blew up Tuesday in a predominantly pro-government neighbourhood of the central Syrian city of Homs that has been repeatedly targeted, killing eight people, a monitor said.The blast rocked a street in the Akrama neighbourhood mostly inhabited by members of the Alawite minority to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“At least eight people died when a mini-bus exploded on the edge of the Akrama neighbourhood,” the head of the Britain-based monitor, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP.

The attack, for which there was no immediate claim, was confirmed by Syrian state media and officials.

Akrama has been hit by several such attacks in the past, the deadliest of which killed dozens of schoolchildren in October 2014.

© 2017 AFP

German police check more German police after Potsdam explosive package

December 4, 2017

Reuters

BERLIN (Reuters) – German police on Monday investigated further suspicious mail packages found around the country as they tried to catch an extortionist who sent a defective parcel bomb to a pharmacy in the city of Potsdam last week.

That package, which contained powerful firecrackers, wires and nails and did not explode, was found to be a criminal extortion attempt against logistics firm DHL rather than “terrorism,” German authorities said on Sunday.

DHL, owned by Deutsche Post, warned its clients on Monday that other suspect packages could arrive through its service among millions of parcels sent in the holiday season.

The company said it would not change its postal secrecy principle to control the content of packages.

More suspicious packages were reported to authorities around Germany – one, which German media suspected contained a grenade, was sent to the state chancellery in the eastern region of Thuringia but police found only rolled-up catalogues inside it.

Police in the eastern state of Brandenburg, where Potsdam is located, said they checked 10 suspicious packages on Monday but gave the all-clear for all of those parcels.

The police said a special team investigating the Potsdam pharmacy package was doubled to over 50 officials and they were searching for the extortionist.

Reporting by Riham Alkousaa; editing by Mark Heinrich

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Extortion, not terrorism behind Potsdam explosive package

A suspicious package with wires and nails that was delivered to an address near a Christmas market in the German city of Potsdam on Friday was “an act of extortion” rather than “terrorism,” according to Reuters, citing local authorities. The package had been used as an attempt to extort money from the DHL company, which delivered it, the interior minister of the state of Brandenburg, Karl-Heinz Schroeter, told a news conference Sunday. A barcode inside the package contained the extortion letter, Brandenburg police chief Hans-Juergen Moerke said, with the senders having threatened to dispatch more dangerous packages if DHL refused to pay them. Police are now searching for those who sent it, adding that it was highly likely that the package could have exploded. The logistics company has warned its clients not to open packages originating from unknown or suspicious addresses.

https://www.rt.com/newsline/411813-extortion-not-terrorism-behind-potsdam/

Six dead as suicide blast hits Afghan political rally

December 3, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Afghan volunteers carry an injured boy to hospital after the suicide attack in Jalalabad

JALALABAD (AFGHANISTAN) (AFP) – At least six people were killed when a suicide bomber drove a motorcycle into a crowd at a political rally in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Sunday, police said.

The crowd had gathered in a sports stadium for a demonstration in support for President Ashraf Ghani, said Nangarhar province’s police spokesman Hazrat Hussain Mashriqiwal.

Image result for Nangarhar, afghanistan, map

“Six people including a woman and a child have been killed and 13 more injured, all of them civilians,” he told AFP by phone.

The toll was confirmed by the provincial governor?s spokesman as well as a local health director, who said some of the wounded were in a serious condition.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but Nangarhar province is considered a hotbed for the Islamic State (IS) group, which emerged in Afghanistan in late 2015.

The Taliban also have an active presence in parts of the province.

Afghan and US officials have stepped up their attacks on IS, saying the group was steadily losing territory with fighters largely confined to two or three districts in Nangarhar compared to around nine in January.

But the group has also intensified attacks across the country, particularly in the east and in the capital Kabul, recruiting followers and in some places challenging the Taliban on their own turf.

Last month a suicide attack claimed by IS militants hit a political gathering in Kabul, killing 14 people.

Political rivalries have also been intensifying in the country before next year’s long-delayed district and parliamentary elections, which would pave the way for a 2019 presidential ballot.

Who are the “anti-blasphemy” Islamists wielding new political influence in Pakistan?

December 3, 2017

The public perception after the crackdown against protestors is overwhelmingly anti-PML(N), while the Pakistan military has gained more sympathy for refusing the act against them. The stage has now been set for the PML(N) exit in the elections next year

Written by Umer Ali | Updated: December 1, 2017 10:43 am

pakistan, pakistan protests, pakistan blasphemy laws, pakistan protests blasphemy laws, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool-ullah, pakistan news, indian express, indian express news

Members of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan far right Islamist political party shout slogans during a sit-in in Rawalpindi, Pakistan November 10, 2017. Reuters

The last three weeks have laid bare Pakistan’s claims of countering extremist ideology, both militarily and ideologically. The state shut down social media websites and TV channels in order to counter protesting supporters of the newly-formed religious party, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool-ullah around Islamabad, and ordered the deployment of troops to restore order. But as a clear sign of insubordination, the military instead objected to the way the protest was handled.

It is important to explore the genesis of TLYP – a group of Barelvi religious organizations behind these protests. For decades, the Deobandi-Salafist groups championed the cause of violent jihad in Pakistan, while the Barelvi groups mostly remained apolitical and non-violent. However, unlike the common belief that only Deobandi-Salafist groups apostatize other sects, Barelvi literature is also rich with fatwas against the followers of other Islamic sects. One reason why Barelvi groups weren’t radicalized during the Afghan jihad is because the Saudi funding to fight the Soviet Union was directed towards Deobandi and Salafist groups due to their ideological affinity. However, over the past few years, Barelvi groups have gained significant political influence and street power.

Barelvi (Urduبَریلوِی‎, BarēlwīUrdu pronunciation: [bəreːlʋi]) is a term used for the movement following the SunniHanafi school of jurisprudence, originating in Bareilly with over 200 million followers in South Asia.[1] The name derives from the north Indian town of Bareilly, the hometown of its founder and main leader Ahmed Raza Khan (1856–1921).[2][3][4][5][6] Although Barelvi is the commonly used term in the media and academia, the followers of the movement often prefer to be known by the title of Ahle Sunnat wa Jama’at, (Urduاہل سنت وجماعت‎) or as Sunnis, a reference to their perception as forming an international majority movement.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barelvi

Since then, Qadri, a Barelvi himself, became the poster boy for Barelvi religious groups. They now champion the ishq-i-rasool (love for the prophet), and remain at the forefront of anti-blasphemy campaigning in Pakistan. The much-needed catalyst to bring their followers on the streets was the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri to death. TLYP was born out of the protests against Qadri’s death. The current leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi gained fame through his fiery speeches against the government.

Unlike the several militant outfits which turned on the military after Pakistan decided to aid the United States’ war on terror in Afghanistan, TLYP focuses its criticism on the civilian government, and not the military. Unlike the Deobandis and Salafis, experts say, Barelvi leaders pose as pro-army and pro-state, who want themselves affiliated with the army, thus giving an impression that everything they are doing is lawful.

This stands true in the current fiasco as well, when General Qamar Bajwa reportedly refused to deploy the military to disperse the protestors, saying “they are our people”. Now that a deal has been struck between the government and the protestors with the arbitration of an ISI Major General, and Law minister Zahid Hamid has resigned, several questions arise: why did an ISI General act as an arbitrator between the government and protestors? If the government was willing to accept the protestors’ demand, why wait for three weeks? Perhaps, the military pressurized the government to accept the protestors’ demands.

The deal itself has been subject to severe criticism by various quarters, with leading commentators describing it as “surrender”. Unfortunately, such deals were struck with the likes of TTP leaders Mullah Fazlullah in Swat and Nek Muhammad in Waziristan, but ultimately, the state had to launch military operations against them.

If one was to learn from those experiences, accepting the demands of an outlawed group is acknowledging them as stakeholders, which only worsens the situation. With this deal as well, the government conformed to the outrageous demands of a small group of protestors – setting another very bad precedent.

Now that someone’s faith is subject to suspicion by a mob, it is clear the mob won’t stop with Zahid Hamid. According to some reports, Punjab Law minister Rana Sanaullah needs to testify his belief in the finality of Prophethood in front of some clerics. If this continues, no one even with a slightly dissenting opinion will be able to live peacefully in Pakistan.

However, there is another important factor to be considered. The military in Pakistan has a history of using religious groups to further their agenda. Currently, the establishment is working hard to destroy the PML(N) votebank ahead of the 2018 general elections. What better way to do so but pitting Barelvism – a large part of the Pakistani population adheres to this school of thought – against the PML(N) ?

The signs have been there. In the recent by-elections for the National Assembly seat vacated by the disqualified former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, TLYP received more than 7,000 votes, while the Milli Muslim League – a political front of the banned LeT (or JuD) – received more than 5,500 votes. Both parties built their campaigns based solely on anti-PML(N) rhetoric.

One reason the military establishment is now relying on Barelvi groups is because the previous “assets” have now become a liability. Pakistan faces continuous pressure from the international community for not acting against terror groups like Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa, or its previous incarnation, the Lashkar-e-Toiba. By using the Barelvi groups, over an issue as sensitive as blasphemy, the military establishment might be preparing alternative assets to be deployed against their political rivals in Pakistan. The public perception after the government crackdown against protestors is overwhelmingly anti-PML(N), while the Pakistan military has gained more sympathy for refusing the act against them. Pakistan’s ultra-conservative population believe they were fighting for a noble cause.

The stage has now been set for the PML(N) exit in the elections next year, but at a hefty cost. A dangerous precedent has been set, and the majority Muslim sect has been weaponized. History is repeating itself in Pakistan.

Umer Ali is an award-winning Pakistani journalist who has reported extensively on terrorism, blasphemy, and human rights. He tweets @iamumer1
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Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan an Islamist political party, attends Friday prayers during a sit-in in Rawalpindi, Pakistan November 17, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood Reuters