At least 7 killed in blast at Pakistan religious school

No group claimed immediate responsibility for the attack, which followed months of relative calm in Pakistan. (AFP)
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Updated 27 October 2020

At least 7 killed in blast at Pakistan religious school

  • More than 60 people had been taking a lesson when the explosion tore through the madrassa in Peshawar
  • No group claimed immediate responsibility for the attack

PESHAWAR: At least seven students were killed and scores more wounded Tuesday in a bomb attack on a Qur'an study class at a religious school in northwestern Pakistan, officials said.

More than 60 people had been taking a lesson when the explosion tore through the madrassa in Peshawar, about 170 kilometers west of Islamabad, said Waqar Azim, a senior police official.

“The blast took place in a seminary during a Qur’an class. Someone took a bag inside the seminary,” Azim said.

He added that the person who had brought in the bag left the lecture hall before the blast at the Jamia Zuberia seminary.

Mohammad Ali Gandapur, another senior police official, said at least seven people had been killed with more than 50 wounded.

The death toll was confirmed by Mohammad Asim Khan, a spokesman at a local hospital, who said that seven bodies and 70 wounded people had been taken to the facility.

“Most of those killed and injured were hit by the ball bearings and some were badly burnt,” he said.

All of the dead were men aged between 20 and 40, he said. Teachers and boys as young as 7 were among the wounded.

Teacher Safiullah Khan said more than 1,000 students are currently enrolled at the religious school, which is roughly divided into two sections, with one for students aged 18 and older and the other for children.

“The blast took place in the section where students above the age of 18 were taking a class,” Khan said, adding that the wall between the two sections collapsed in the blast.

A live stream of the lesson showed a religious teacher speaking in Pashto and Arabic, explaining a saying from the Prophet Muhammad, when the explosion took place.

Shortly afterwards, rescue workers and locals were seen scouring the site and collecting students’ books, caps and shoes.

The loud blast, which could be heard across most parts of Peshawar, wrecked the school’s interior and damaged the roof of the main hall.

No group claimed immediate responsibility for the attack, which followed months of relative calm in Pakistan.

Peshawar was once the epicenter of militant violence in the country, with jihadists targeting security forces and public spaces in the city near the northwestern frontier with Afghanistan.

Violence in Pakistan has declined in recent years following a series of military operations along the border, but militant groups are still able to carry out deadly attacks.

In 2014, Pakistan’s army launched a massive offensive to wipe out militant bases in the area and end the near decade-long insurgency that has cost thousands of lives.

The operation was intensified after the Pakistani Taliban killed more than 150 people, the majority of them children, at a school in Peshawar in December 2014.

Still, the Pakistani Taliban have been regrouping in recent months with several factions coming together in a pact, raising fears the jihadists may be regaining strength after launching a string of small-scale attacks on security forces along the border.


Belgium tries Iranian diplomat over bomb plot

Updated 27 November 2020

Belgium tries Iranian diplomat over bomb plot

  • In June 2018, Belgian authorities thwarted what they said was an attempt to smuggle explosives to France to attack a meeting of one of Iran’s exiled opposition movements

BRUSSELS: An Iranian diplomat goes on trial in Belgium on Friday accused of plotting to bomb an opposition rally outside Paris, in a case that has stoked tensions with Tehran.
The case shines another uncomfortable light on Iran’s international activities just as it hopes to ease tensions with the United States after President Donald Trump tore up the 2015 nuclear deal signed by both countries and other world powers.
It also comes a day after a prisoner swap that saw the release of three Iranians jailed over a 2012 bomb plot in Thailand, in exchange for the freeing of an Australian-British lecturer imprisoned by Tehran for alleged spying.
In June 2018, Belgian authorities thwarted what they said was an attempt to smuggle explosives to France to attack a meeting of one of Iran’s exiled opposition movements.
Later that year, the French government accused Iran’s intelligence service of being behind the operation, a charge the Islamic republic has furiously denied.
Assadollah Assadi, a 48-year-old Iranian diplomat formerly based in Vienna, faces life in prison if convicted.
The National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), which includes the People’s Mojahedin of Iran or (MEK), organized a rally in Villepinte outside Paris on June 30, 2018.
Several well-known international figures — including former US and British officials and Franco-Colombian former senator Ingrid Betancourt — and NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi were to attend.
On the same morning, Belgian police intercepted a Belgian-Iranian couple driving from Antwerp and carrying half-a-kilo of TATP explosives and a detonator.
The arrested couple, 36-year-old Nassimeh Naami and 40-year-old Amir Saadouni, join Assadi in the dock, alongside another alleged accomplice, Mehrdad Arefani, 57.
All four are charged with attempting to carry out a terrorist attack and taking part in the activity of a terrorist group. All face life sentences.
Assadi was arrested while he was traveling through Germany where he had no immunity from prosecution, being outside of the country of his diplomatic posting.
Arefani, an Iranian poet who had lived in Belgium for more than a decade, was arrested in France in 2018 after Belgium issued a European arrest warrant.


Counsel representing those targeted by the alleged attack say Arefani was close to Assadi, said to be the architect of the plot, and point to an Austrian SIM card found in his possession.
The two men deny any connection.
“We are looking at a clear case of state terrorism,” said lawyer Georges-Henri Beauthier, who is representing the interests of the NCRI, along with French colleague William Bourdon.
Dimitri de Beco, defense counsel for Assadi, has accused the civil plaintiffs of trying to turn the case into a political trial on behalf of the opposition movement.
According to Iran expert Francois Nicoullaud — a former French ambassador to Tehran — Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was surprised to learn about the failed attack.
“Visiting Europe at the time, he was absolutely furious to learn about this intelligence service operation, on which he hadn’t been consulted,” the diplomat told AFP.
At the time of the alleged plot, Rouhani was trying to maintain the support of European capitals for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal abandoned by the Trump administration.
When Paris pointed the finger at Iranian intelligence, an Iranian spokesman voiced denial and alleged that opponents of the deal in “certain quarters” were attempting to frame Tehran.
That idea was dismissed by observers like Nicoullaud as a smokescreen. “It’s not serious,” he said.
The trial is scheduled to take two days, Friday and then Thursday next week. The court is then expected to adjourn to consider its verdict before ruling early next year.