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Pakistan Taliban kill at least 19 as they storm university

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(Last Updated On: January 20, 2016)

 

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Islamist Taliban militants stormed a university in volatile northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, killing at least 19 people and wounding dozens as the army hunted for any gunmen still holed up on the campus, officials said.

A security official said the death toll could rise to as high as 40 as army commandos cleared out student hostels and classrooms. A spokesman for the rescue workers, Bilal Ahmad Faizi, said 19 bodies had been recovered including students, guards, policemen and at least one teacher, named by media as chemistry professor Syed Hamid Husain.

Many of the dead were apparently shot in the head execution-style, TV footage showed.

Umar Mansoor, a senior Pakistani Taliban commander and the mastermind of a student massacre in December 2014 at a military-run school in nearby Peshawar, claimed responsibility for the assault and said it involved four of his men.

A senior security officer at the scene told Reuters 90 percent of the campus had been secured after a three-hour gunfight with the militants ended, and that 51 people were wounded. Four gunmen were killed.

The militants, using the cover of thick, wintry fog, scaled the walls of the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, before entering buildings and opening fire on students and teachers in classrooms and hostels, police said.

Students told media they saw several young men wielding AK-47 guns storming the university housing where many students were sleeping.

“They came from behind and there was a big commotion,” an unnamed male student told a news channel from a hospital bed in Charsadda’s District Hospital. “We were told by teachers to leave immediately. Some people hid in bathrooms.”

The gunmen attacked as the university prepared to host a poetry recital on Wednesday afternoon to commemorate the death anniversary of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a popular ethnic Pashtun independence activist after whom the university is named.

 

RUMOURS OF ATTACK

Vice Chancellor Fazal Rahim told reporters that the university teaches over 3,000 students and was hosting an additional 600 visitors on Wednesday for the recital.

Police inspector Saeed Wazir said 70 percent of the students had been rescued.

“All students have been evacuated from the hostels, but militants are still hiding in different parts of the university and some students and staff are stuck inside,” he said before the firing had stopped, adding that it was unclear how many gunmen were involved.

Television footage showed military vehicles packed with soldiers driving into the campus as helicopters buzzed overhead and ambulances lined up outside the main gate while anxious parents consoled each other.

Shabir Khan, a lecturer in the English department, said he was about to leave his university housing for the department when firing began.

“Most of the students and staff were in classes when the firing began,” Khan said. “I have no idea about what’s going on but I heard one security official talking on the phone to someone and said many people had been killed and injured.”

Several schools had closed early on the weekend around Peshawar after rumors circulated of a possible attack.

Pakistan, which has suffered from years of jihadist militant violence, has killed and arrested hundreds of suspected militants under a major crackdown launched after the massacre of school children in December 2014 in Peshawar.

The school attack by six Pakistani Taliban gunmen hit a raw nerve in Pakistan and was seen as having hardened Pakistan’s resolve to fight militants along its lawless border with Afghanistan.

“We are determined and resolved in our commitment to wipe out the menace of terrorism from our homeland,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in a statement after Wednesday’s attack.

By: Reuters

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NDS claims to have killed key al-Qaeda leader in Ghazni province 

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(Last Updated On: October 25, 2020)

Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) said its special forces killed a key al-Qaeda member in an operation in Ghazni province. 

In a post on Twitter, the NDS said: “As a result of NDS special force unit operation in Ghazni province an al-Qaeda key member for Indian sub-continent, Abu Muhsen al-Masri was killed.”

Al-Masri, an Egyptian national was believed to be the “second-in-command” in al-Qaeda and had been on the US’s Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Most Wanted Terrorist list.

He was charged in the US with conspiring to kill US nationals and providing resources to a foreign terrorist organization.

Rahmatullah Nabil, the former director of the NDS, said Sunday that al-Masri and some other members of al-Qaeda had frequently traveled between Shawwal Valley and Ghazni over the past few weeks.

He suggested that it could be related to a possible al-Qaeda attack.

According to him, key members of al-Qaeda had also been traveling to Zabul, Logar, and Paktika provinces. 

He said the al-Qaeda members had been holding “secret meetings with unknown people” in Shawwal Valley and stated if the Taliban are sincere about the peace process they should “prevent this attack”. 

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Atta Noor asks India to ‘engage with Taliban without giving them legitimacy’

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(Last Updated On: October 25, 2020)

As parties to the Afghan peace talks process in Doha stall over preliminary issues, Atta Mohammad Noor, CEO of Jamiat Party and former governor of Balkh province has called on New Delhi to help by playing a more proactive role in the dialogue and hold talks with the Taliban. 

Noor, who is currently in India, is the fourth prominent Afghan leader to visit India in the past few weeks to discuss the peace talks process – after visits by Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation; former Afghan vice-president Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Afghan politician and former Mujahideen Leader.

In an interview with ThePrint in Delhi this past week, Noor, who picked up a weapon in 2016 to save the lives of Indian diplomats during an attack on their consulate in Balkh province, said he was there to try to garner India’s support. 

“The situation in Afghanistan is currently quite complicated. That’s the reason I am here in India. I really hope that India will be more proactive because India has got power, it has got leverage, and it has got influence in the region,” Noor said.

“If India does not do that, then this will give more ground to the Pakistanis. As the Americans are leaving, the Pakistanis are finding more space in Afghanistan,” Noor said.

Until now, however, India’s policy has been that it will not engage with the Taliban, as it continues to see the fundamentalist group as being aided by Pakistan.

Recounting his experience in Mazar-e-Sharif four years ago, Noor told ThePrint it had been a rainy winter day in January of 2016 when the consulate was attacked. 

Noor said he reached the site of the consulate attack in 12 minutes and “started shooting the Taliban and other terrorists from Kashmir with my M4 sniper rifle”.

“I put my life at risk but I had to protect the diplomats and Indian friends. I felt we should give it back in return of what India did for us when we faced difficulties. There were some insurgents who had come from Kashmir as well. I reached there in 12 minutes, took up my arms and left for the consulate to defend it,” he added. 

“I was the governor at that time and more than 10,000 soldiers were under my control. But I deemed it my personal responsibility to defend my brothers who were stuck there,” he said.

According to him, insurgents tried to enter the consulate but were held off from doing so by security forces but managed to gain entry into a building nearby where they started shooting. 

The siege lasted 24 hours, with consulate staff having had to take refuge in safe rooms throughout the attack. 

“I started shooting with my people and continued shooting till the morning so that they cannot attack back. I am sure it was me who killed the first person and finally gunned all of them down. With their blood, they wrote Kashmir and Afzal on the wall,” he said.

Atta Noor at the scene of the attack on the Indian Consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif in 2016

 

Noor also got helicopters to bring in reinforcement soldiers and said he managed to guide the pilots as well.

As External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said in a tweet after their meeting earlier this week, Noor is regarded as a “long-standing friend of India”.

But Noor has pointed out that he is concerned Afghanistan might return to what it was during the Taliban’s regime and said India has the capability to become a “facilitator” of the peace talks and join other countries who are playing the same role.

“The peace talks going on in Qatar have not yielded any results yet. And the Taliban are being more aggressive. It seems they are being supported by others … India is a big and strong country and should be one of the facilitators (in the peace talks),” he said.

Otherwise, he said, there may come a situation where some of the Taliban leaders come to power and become part of the government while others continue to wage attacks, ThePrint reported.

“If that happens, we will get back to what happened in 1996. The situation can be worse than that,” he added. Being an important stakeholder in the development process there, India cannot afford to let that happen, he said. “I really hope India can be more proactive. India has more nationalist and strategic friends in Afghanistan.”

Noor also pointed out that the current peace talks can throw up very different results, each with consequences for India.

“There can be two situations arising out of the current peace talks. Either it will conclude and there will be a new government or the peace talks will fail and the fighting will continue. If the new government comes in, India will have its strategic partners in the new government, as always, by defusing all the plots hatched by other countries,” he said.

“Both countries are fighting terrorism … We do not want to drag the feet of India in a prolonged war. But India should engage with the Taliban … I want India to engage with the Taliban but not give them legitimacy.”

He said China is playing its role in the peace talks “aggressively” and so are the Russians and the Iranians.

Noor asked Jaishankar Wednesday to begin negotiations with the Taliban, something that the Afghan government has also reportedly been asking New Delhi to do but he said if the talks fail, the insurgents will have an “upper hand” and this will give more leeway to Pakistan.

“At that time, we would need to stand by the Afghan government … We will have a united resistance against the Taliban if the situation becomes so,” Noor said.

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Khalilzad urges independent bodies, media included, to document casualties 

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(Last Updated On: October 25, 2020)

Amid rising levels of violence in the country, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconstruction Zalmay Khalilzad said overnight Sunday that an accelerated political settlement was critical along with a reduction in violence. 

In a series of tweets, Khalilzad said: “The answer to this tragic situation is an immediate reduction of violence leading to a ceasefire by all sides. The answer is to accelerate a political settlement.”

“The US is singularly focused on this goal & is pressing both parties to reduce violence & find a path to peace as soon as possible,” he tweeted. 

Khalilzad stated however that independent bodies also need to document current events. 

“It is vital that Afghanistan’s independent media and robust civil society be allowed to document current events,” he said.

This comes after a particularly violent week in Afghanistan in which dozens of civilians lost their lives. 

On Saturday, at least 18 people, mostly students, were killed in a suicide bombing close to an educational facility in Kabul city. 

Also on Saturday, nine people were killed in Ghazni when the vehicle they were traveling in hit a roadside bomb. 

Earlier in the week, an airstrike hit a mosque and school in Takhar province, killing at least 12 children. 

Reacting to this incident, Khalilzad tweed that Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission has confirmed 12 children were killed and many more injured in the airstrike by Afghan government forces.

“This is a terrible tragedy. Unfortunately, tragedy is not limited to Takhar. Civilians are victims of car bombs, IEDs, and targeted killings perpetrated by the Taliban. Civilians have been forced to flee fighting in Lashkar Gah and other areas.”

He said the US offers its “condolences to all the families of those killed and injured.”

This statement by Khalilzad follows on the heels of government’s rejection of claims last week that the Afghan National Army airstrike had hit a mosque and school. 

First Vice President Amrullah Saleh rejected the claims made by local officials in Takhar province and instead ordered the arrest of the individual who reported civilian casualties.

Local officials said 12 children had been killed and 18 civilians wounded in the strike in Hazara Qarluq village in Takhar on Wednesday morning.

Saleh, rejected claims, stated: “No child was killed in Afghan Air Force strike in Takhar.”

He also stated that the Taliban sniper unit “responsible for the massacre of our special forces a day earlier was targeted.”

“The person responsible for spread of this venomous and fake news was arrested immediately. Talibs use houses and mosques as shields,” Saleh tweeted.

Saleh also wrote on Facebook that legal action would be taken against those “who make false allegations.”

Meanwhile, associate Asia director for Human Rights Watch Patricia Gossman said on Thursday: “Vice President Amrullah Saleh is trying to silence those who reported a potentially unlawful airstrike that killed civilians, including many children,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director. 

“The government should immediately release anyone detained under Saleh’s order and carry out a thorough and impartial investigation of the airstrike.”

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