Blast kills more than 50 at Kabul mosque, its leader says

People leave the site of an explosion as a Taliban fighter stands guard in Kabul, on Friday. (AP)
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Updated 29 April 2022

Blast kills more than 50 at Kabul mosque, its leader says

  • The blast hit the Khalifa Sahib Mosque in the west of the capital in the early afternoon, said Besmullah Habib, deputy spokesman for the interior ministry
  • The attack came as worshippers at the Sunni mosque gathered after Friday prayers for a congregation known as Zikr

KABUL: A powerful explosion killed more than 50 worshippers after Friday prayers at a Kabul mosque, its leader said, the latest in a series of attacks on civilian targets in Afghanistan during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The blast hit the Khalifa Sahib Mosque in the west of the capital in the early afternoon, said Besmullah Habib, deputy spokesman for the interior ministry, who said the official confirmed death toll was 10.
The attack came as worshippers at the Sunni mosque gathered after Friday prayers for a congregation known as Zikr — an act of religious remembrance practiced by some Muslims but seen as heretical by some hard-line Sunni groups.
Sayed Fazil Agha, the head of the mosque, said someone they believed was a suicide bomber joined them in the ceremony and detonated explosives.
“Black smoke rose and spread everywhere, dead bodies were everywhere,” he told Reuters, adding that his nephews were among the dead. “I myself survived, but lost my beloved ones.”
Resident Mohammad Sabir said he had seen wounded people being loaded into ambulances.
“The blast was very loud, I thought my eardrums were cracked,” he said.
A health source said hospitals had received 66 dead bodies and 78 wounded people so far.
The United States and the United Nations’ mission to Afghanistan condemned the attack, with the latter saying it was part of an uptick in violence in recent weeks targeting minorities and adding that at least two UN staff members and their families were in the mosque at the time of the attack.
“No words are strong enough to condemn this despicable act,” said Mette Knudsen, the UN secretary general’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan.
Emergency Hospital in downtown Kabul said it was treating 21 patients and two were dead on arrival. A worker at another hospital treating attack patients said it had received 49 patients and around five bodies. Ten of the patients were in critical condition, the source added, and almost 20 had been admitted to the burns unit.
A spokesman for the ruling Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, released a statement condemning the blast and saying the perpetrators would be found and punished.
It was not immediately clear who was responsible.
Scores of Afghan civilians have been killed in recent weeks in blasts, some of which have been claimed by Daesh.
Emergency Hospital said it had treated more than 100 patients wounded in attacks in Kabul in April alone. The latest attack came on the last Friday in the month of Ramadan in which most Muslims fast, and before the religious holiday of Eid next week.
The Taliban say they have secured the country since taking power in August and largely eliminated Daesh’s local offshoot, but international officials and analysts say the risk of resurgence in militancy remains.
Many of the attacks have targeted the Shiite minority, however Sunni mosques have also been attacked.
Bombs exploded aboard two passenger vans carrying Shiite Muslims in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif on Thursday, killing at least nine people. Last Friday, a blast tore through a Sunni mosque during Friday prayers in the city of Kunduz, killing 33.


Kremlin dismisses ‘stupid’ claims Russia attacked Nord Stream

Updated 6 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.

North Korea fires ballistic missile off east coast – Seoul

Updated 51 min 2 sec ago

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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