Nearly 50 die as suicide bomber targets Islamic gathering in Kabul: Official

The Afghan president called the act ‘unforgivable’ as the Taliban distanced themselves from the attack. (Reuters)
Updated 20 November 2018
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Nearly 50 die as suicide bomber targets Islamic gathering in Kabul: Official

  • The suicide bomber was able to sneak into a wedding hall in Kabul where hundreds of religious scholars and clerics had gathered
  • No one immediately claimed the attack, but both the Taliban and a local Daesh affiliate have targeted religious scholars before

KABUL: Some 50 Islamic religious figures were killed on Tuesday in the Afghan capital in a suicide attack at a religious function, summoned for marking the birth of Islam’s prophet Mohammad (PBUH), officials said.

The interior ministry spokesman, Najib Danesh, told Arab News that nearly 70 other participants were wounded in the incident which happed inside the hall of a large hotel where the function was going on after evening’s prayers.

“It was summoned by the Ulema council and scholars from many parts of the country had gathered in it to recite Koran and mark Milad Sharif,” he said.

President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack, calling it as unforgivable act. He ordered Wedneday as national mourning day when Afghanistan’s flag will be at half mast.

Over 20 of the scores wounded in the attack were in critical condition, public health ministry officials said.

The Taliban, the main insurgent group, which relies on suicide attacks against government and foreign military and civilian targets, distanced themselves from the attack and condemned it as a crime. 

The function of was held by Sunni sect of Islam’s followers, residents said.

Sirens of ambulances could be heard in several parts of the city. Images on social media showed part of the badly damaged hall of the hotel with body parts strewn in various directions.

No group has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. But affiliates of the Islamic State, have repeatedly targeted mosques and worshipping sites of Shiites in recent years in Afghanistan.

The network Shiites as deviants and Tuesday’s attack is the first of its kind against a Sunni religious gathering in Afghanistan.

Hundreds of people had participated in the gathering and there were fears of rise of casualties.


Police slam US actor, say he staged racist attack to boost career

Updated 22 February 2019
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Police slam US actor, say he staged racist attack to boost career

  • Jussie Smollett, the African-American actor who stars on Fox music industry drama ‘Empire,’ went from victim to suspect after he reported an assault late last month
  • Smollett accused of first sending himself a fake threatening letter and then staging an attack to tap into Americans’ anxieties over political and racial divisions

CHICAGO: An American TV actor was criminally charged Thursday for allegedly masterminding an elaborate “publicity stunt” that sought to exploit the “pain and anger of racism” with a staged assault on the streets of Chicago.

It was the latest twist in a weeks-long saga that has seen 36-year-old Jussie Smollett, the African-American actor who stars on Fox music industry drama “Empire,” go from victim to suspect after he reported an assault late last month.

An incredulous Chicago police chief accused Smollett of first sending himself a fake threatening letter and then staging an attack to tap into Americans’ anxieties over political and racial divisions, because he was allegedly “dissatisfied with his salary.”

In a sign of the national attention the case has drawn, President Donald Trump weighed in Thursday, taking issue with the fact Smollett claimed his assailants invoked the president’s “Make America Great Again” slogan along with racist slurs during the purported attack.

“‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told an emotionally-charged news conference — during which he lashed out angrily at the actor for sullying the city’s image.

“Smollett paid $3,500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago’s reputation through the mud in the process,” he said. “This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve.”

Smollett turned himself in early Thursday morning, was arrested and charged with a felony count of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report, and was granted $100,000 bond.

He was freed from jail late in the afternoon, and said nothing to the throng of media. If convicted, he faces up to three years in prison.

His legal team pushed back hard later Thursday, claiming the police press conference had been prejudicial and “the presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon.”

“Today we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system,” attorney Jack Prior told AFP in a statement.

“Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”

Smollett had claimed that two masked men beat him late at night in downtown Chicago, poured bleach on him and tied a rope around his neck — but police grew suspicious of his account after they failed to corroborate it.

Trump took aim at the actor for having tarnished his supporters, tweeting: “what about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?“

Meanwhile, Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television, which produce “Empire” and had stood by the actor, said “we understand the seriousness of this matter” and “are considering our options.”

Authorities said the two men who staged the attack with Smollett were brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo, who have both previously worked on “Empire,” and were acquaintances of the actor — while one provided him with drugs.

The brothers have cooperated with police since their arrest late last week and have not been charged with a crime.

Smollett allegedly first concocted a false threatening letter he had sent to himself — which is under a separate FBI investigation — and when that did not get enough attention, paid the brothers to have the assault staged.

Prosecutor Risa Lanier detailed an elaborate plot that Smollett allegedly orchestrated with exacting detail — telling the brothers when and how to attack him, including pointing out a street camera he assumed would capture the event, but was in fact pointing in a different direction.

The allegations were backed by a mountain of evidence, including a cashed check that Smollett wrote to pay for the stunt, authorities said.

Initial news of Smollett’s claims led to widespread condemnation and shock, and an outpouring of support from celebrities and politicians alike, including Democratic 2020 presidential candidates Cory Booker and Kamala Harris who denounced “an attempted modern day lynching.”

Trump initially described the alleged attack as “horrible.”

Since then, Smollett’s story has become a cautionary tale in an era where incomplete information is quickly spread via social media.

Opinion writers have complained about a rush to judgment, and politicians, celebrities and nonprofit groups have felt pressure to explain their initial reactions.

The president of the LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign said the Smollett news was “both devastating and frustrating.”

“I want to ask everyone feeling angry, hurt and disappointed to channel that into productive activism — because there are thousands targeted by hate violence each year who need our help,” Chad Griffin tweeted.