At least 100 dead, wounded in blast at Shiite mosque — Afghan Taliban official

Taliban fighters investigate inside a Shiite mosque after a suicide bomb attack in Kunduz on October 8, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 08 October 2021

At least 100 dead, wounded in blast at Shiite mosque — Afghan Taliban official

  • Militants from the Daesh group have a long history of attacking minority communities in Afghanistan
  • The Taliban have also been targeted in a series of deadly attacks by rival Daesh militants

KABUL: A blast went off Friday at a mosque packed with Shiite Muslim worshippers in northern Afghanistan, killing or wounding at least 100 people, a Taliban police official said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, which took place in Kunduz, the capital of Kunduz province, but militants from the Daesh group have a long history of attacking Afghanistan’s Shiite minority.
Dost Mohammad Obaida, the deputy police chief for Kunduz province, said that the “majority of them have been killed,” in reference to the victims. He said the attack may have been carried out by a suicide bomber who had mingled among the worshipers inside the mosque.
“I assure our Shiite brothers that the Taliban are prepared to ensure their safety,” Obaida said, adding that an investigation was underway.
If confirmed, a death toll of dozens would be the highest since US and NATO forces left Afghanistan at the end of August and the Taliban took control of the country. The Taliban have been targeted in a series of deadly attacks by rival Daesh militants, including shooting ambushes and an explosion at a mosque in the capital of Kabul.
The Kunduz explosion went off during the weekly Friday prayer service at the Gozar-e-Sayed Abad Mosque. The Friday noon prayer is the highlight of the Muslim religious week, and mosques are typically crowded. Witness Ali Reza said he was praying at the time of the explosion and reported seeing many casualties.
Photos and video from the scene showed rescuers carrying a body wrapped in a blanket from the mosque to an ambulance. The stairs at the entrance of the mosque were covered in blood. Debris from the blast covered the floor and the mosque’s lofty ceiling was charred black.
A resident of the area, Hussaindad Rezayee, said he rushed to the mosque as soon as the explosion went off. “I was busy at home doing construction work, and when the prayers started, the explosion happened,” he said. “I came to look for my relatives, the mosque was full.”
Earlier Friday, the chief Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the Shiite mosque was the target and that a “large number” of worshippers were killed and wounded. He said Taliban special forces had arrived to the scene and were investigating the incident.
The Taliban leadership has been grappling with a growing threat from the local Daesh affiliate, known as Daesh in Khorasan. IS militants have ramped up attacks to target their rivals, including two recent deadly bombings in Kabul.
Daesh has also declared war on Afghanistan’s minority Shiites and has taken responsibility for some of the worst attacks targeting the community, including attacks on their mosques in Kabul and the western province of Herat.
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan condemned Friday’s attack, saying it was “part of a disturbing pattern of violence” targeting religious institutions.
Previously, Daesh had claimed a bombing on Sunday outside Kabul’s Eid Gah Mosque that killed at least five civilians. Another attack on a madrassa, a religious school, in Khost province on Wednesday was not claimed.
The local Daesh affiliate also claimed responsibility for the horrific Aug. 26 bombing that killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 US military personnel outside the Kabul airport in the final days of the chaotic American pullout from Afghanistan.
Since the US pullout, Daesh attacks have been mostly in eastern Afghanistan — the regional base for the Daesh affiliate — and in Kabul.
In northern Kunduz province, ethnic Hazaras, who are mostly Shiites, make up about 6 percent of the province’s population of nearly 1 million people. The province also has a large ethnic Uzbek population that has been targeted for recruitment by the Daesh, which is closely aligned with the militant Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Friday’s attack, if claimed by Daesh, will also be worrying for Afghanistan’s northern Central Asian neighbors and Russia, which has been courting the Taliban for years as an ally against the creeping Daesh in the region.


Kremlin dismisses ‘stupid’ claims Russia attacked Nord Stream

Updated 35 min 30 sec ago

Kremlin dismisses ‘stupid’ claims Russia attacked Nord Stream

  • Europe has been investigating what Germany, Denmark and Sweden said were attacks which had caused major leaks into the Baltic Sea

MOSCOW: The Kremlin on Wednesday said claims that Russia was somehow behind a possible attack on the Nord Stream gas pipelines were stupid, adding that Moscow saw a sharp increase the profits of US companies supplying gas to Europe.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a daily conference call with reporters that the incident needed to be investigated and the timings for repair of the damaged pipelines were not clear.
Europe has been investigating what Germany, Denmark and Sweden said were attacks which had caused major leaks into the Baltic Sea from two Russian gas pipelines at the center of an energy standoff.
Asked about claims Russia might somehow be behind the possible attack, Peskov said: “That’s quite predictable and also predictably stupid.”
“This is a big problem for us because, firstly, both lines of Nord Stream 2 are filled with gas — the entire system is ready to pump gas and the gas is very expensive... Now the gas is flying off into the air.”
“Before making any claims, we should wait for investigation into these ruptures, whether there was an explosion or not,” Peskov said. Information on the incident could be expected from Denmark and Sweden, he said.
Nord Stream AG, the operator of the network, said on Tuesday that three of four offshore lines of the Nord Stream gas pipeline system sustained “unprecedented” damage in one day. All Nord Stream’s pipeline had not delivered gas by the time of the incident.
Nord Stream 1 has reported a significant pressure drop caused by the gas leak on both lines of the gas pipeline, while Nord Stream 2 said that a sharp pressure drop in line A was registered on Monday.

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North Korea fires ballistic missile off east coast – Seoul

Updated 28 September 2022

North Korea fires ballistic missile off east coast – Seoul

  • Japan’s coast guard also reported a suspected ballistic missile test
  • North Korea also fired a ballistic missile toward the sea off its east coast on Sunday

SEOUL: North Korea fired a ballistic missile off its east coast on Wednesday, South Korea’s military said, as South Korea and the United States staged joint naval exercises involving an aircraft carrier.
Japan’s coast guard also reported a suspected ballistic missile test.
The launch came two days after South Korea and US forces launched their military exercise in the waters off South Korea’s east coast involving an aircraft carrier.
US Vice President Kamala Harris is set to arrive in the South Korean capital, Seoul, on Thursday after a visit to Japan.
North Korea also fired a ballistic missile toward the sea off its east coast on Sunday.
North Korea has been subjected to UN sanctions since 2006, which the Security Council has steadily — and unanimously — stepped up over the years to cut off funding for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
North Korea rejects UN resolutions as an infringement of its sovereign right to self-defense and space exploration, and has criticized military exercises by United States and South Korea as proof of their hostile intentions.


17 dead in China restaurant fire: authorities

Updated 28 September 2022

17 dead in China restaurant fire: authorities

BEIJING: A fire at a restaurant in northeastern China on Wednesday killed 17 people and injured three, according to local authorities.
The blaze broke out at 12:40 pm in an eatery in the city of Changchun, the local government said in a statement posted on the Weibo social media platform.


UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan

Updated 28 September 2022

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan

  • UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in late August that more than half the Afghan population — some 24 million people — need assistance and close to 19 million are facing acute levels of food insecurity

UNITED NATIONS: A senior UN official warned Tuesday of a possible internal conflict and worsening poverty in Afghanistan if the Taliban don’t respond quickly to the needs of all elements of society, saying their crackdown on the rights of girls and women signals indifference to over 50 percent of Afghanistan’s population and a willingness to risk international isolation.
Markus Potzel, the UN deputy representative for Afghanistan, told the Security Council some of the Taliban’s “claimed and acknowledged achievements” are also eroding.
He pointed to a steady rise in armed clashes, criminal activity and high profile terrorist attacks especially by the Islamic State extremist group which demonstrated in recent months that it can carry out assassinations of figures close to the Taliban, attack foreign embassies, fire rockets against Afghanistan’s neighbors — and maintain their longstanding campaign against Shia Muslims and ethnic minorities.
Potzel said the economic situation also “remains tenuous,” with food security worsening and winter approaching.
The UN humanitarian appeal for $4.4 billion has only received $1.9 billion which is “alarming,” he said, urging donors to immediately provide $614 million to support winter preparations and an additional $154 million to preposition essential supplies before places get cut off by winter weather.
UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in late August that more than half the Afghan population — some 24 million people — need assistance and close to 19 million are facing acute levels of food insecurity. And “we worry” that the figures will soon become worse because winter weather will send already high fuel and food prices skyrocketing, he said.
While there have been some positive developments in Afghanistan in recent months, Potzel said, they have been too few, too slow, “and are outweighed by the negatives, “in particular, the ongoing ban on secondary education for girls — unique in the world — and growing restrictions on women’s rights.”
When the Taliban first ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women and girls were subject to overwhelming restrictions — no education, no participation in public life, and women were required to wear the all-encompassing burqa.
Following the Taliban ouster by US forces in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks in the United States, and for the next 20 years, Afghan girls were not only enrolled in school but universities, and many women became doctors, lawyers, judges, members of parliament and owners of businesses, traveling without face coverings.
After the Taliban overran the capital on Aug. 15, 2021 as US and NATO forces were in the final stages of their chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years, they promised a more moderate form of Islamic rule including allowing women to continue their education and work outside the home.
They initially announced no dress code though they also vowed to impose Sharia, or Islamic law. But Taliban hard-liners have since turned back the clock to their previous harsh rule, confirming the worst fears of human rights activists and further complicating Taliban dealings with an already distrustful international community.
Potzel said that in UN discussions with Taliban officials, leaders state that the decision has been made and is maintained by Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, “defended by hard-liners around him, but questioned by most of the rest of the movement who are either unable or unwilling to change the trajectory.”
The result, he said, is that women and girls are relegated to their home, deprived of their rights, and “Afghanistan as a whole is denied the benefit of the significant contributions that women and girls have to offer.”
“If the Taliban do not respond to the needs of all elements of Afghan society and constructively engage within the very limited window of opportunity with the international community, it is unclear what would come next,” Potzel said.
“Further fragmentation, isolation, poverty, and internal conflict are scenarios, leading to potential mass migration and a domestic environment conducive to terrorist organizations, as well as greater misery for the Afghan population,” he said.


UN calls on Iran to refrain from ‘disproportionate force’ against protests

Updated 28 September 2022

UN calls on Iran to refrain from ‘disproportionate force’ against protests

WASHINGTON: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi not to use “disproportionate force” against protesters who took to the streets after the death of a young woman in morality police custody, his spokesman said Tuesday.
In a bilateral meeting last week during the UN General Assembly, Guterres “stressed to President Raisi the need to respect human rights, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
“We are increasingly concerned about reports of rising fatalities, including women and children, related to the protests,” Dujarric said in a statement.
He said Guterres “calls on the security forces to refrain from using unnecessary or disproportionate force and appeals to all to exercise utmost restraint to avoid further escalation.”
He also called for a “prompt, impartial and effective investigation” into the death of Mahsa Amini, the young woman who died in the custody of Iran’s morality police, sparking nationwide protests that have left at least dozens of people dead.
Raisi on Saturday labelled the protests “riots” and urged “decisive action against the opponents of the security and peace of the country and the people,” his office said.

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