Suicide blast kills 19 at education center in Afghan capital

People gather after an explosion inside an examination hall of an institute in Kabul, Afghanistan on September 30, 2022. (Twitter/taahir_khan)
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Updated 30 September 2022

Suicide blast kills 19 at education center in Afghan capital

  • Blast happened in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood of western Kabul, a predominantly Shiite Muslim area
  • Students were preparing for an exam when a suicide bomber struck at this educational center, police

KABUL: A suicide attack at a learning center in the Afghan capital killed 19 people as students prepared for exams on Friday morning, police said.

The blast happened in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood of western Kabul, a predominantly Shiite Muslim area home to the minority Hazara community, the scene of some of Afghanistan’s most deadly attacks.

“Students were preparing for an exam when a suicide bomber struck at this educational center. Unfortunately, 19 people have been martyred and 27 others wounded,” police spokesman Khalid Zadran said.

Videos posted online and photos published by local media showed bloodied victims being carried away from the scene.

“Security teams have reached the site, the nature of the attack and the details of the casualties will be released later,” the interior ministry spokesman Abdul Nafy Takor earlier tweeted.

“Attacking civilian targets proves the enemy’s inhuman cruelty and lack of moral standards.”

The Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan last year brought an end to the two-decade war and a significant reduction in violence, but security has begun to deteriorate in recent months under the hard-line Islamists.

Afghanistan’s Shiite Hazaras have faced persecution for decades, with the Taliban accused of abuses against the group when they first ruled from 1996 to 2001.

Such accusations picked up again after they swept back to power.

Hazaras are also the frequent target of attacks by the Taliban’s enemy the Daesh group. Both consider them heretics.

Countless attacks have devastated the area, with many targeting children, women and schools.

Last year, before the return of the Taliban, at least 85 people — mainly girl students — were killed and about 300 wounded when three bombs exploded near their school in Dasht-e-Barchi.

No group claimed responsibility, but a year earlier IS claimed a suicide attack on an educational center in the same area that killed 24, including students.

In May 2020, the group was blamed for a bloody gun attack on a maternity ward of a hospital in the neighborhood that killed 25 people, including new mothers.

And in April this year, two deadly bomb blasts at separate education centers in the area killed six people and wounded at least 20 others.

Education is a flashpoint issue in Afghanistan, with the Taliban blocking many girls from returning to secondary education, while the Islamic State also stand against the education of women and girls.


Russian reinforcements pour into eastern Ukraine, says governor

Updated 56 min 14 sec ago

Russian reinforcements pour into eastern Ukraine, says governor

  • New Russian offensive possible in 10 days, says governor
  • British intel says Russia does not have forces for offensive

KYIV: Russia was pouring reinforcements into eastern Ukraine ahead of a possible new offensive, said a Ukrainian governor, but British intelligence said on Tuesday it was unlikely that Russia would have enough forces to significantly affect the war within weeks.
Desperate for Western military aid to arrive, Ukraine anticipates a major offensive could be launched by Russia for “symbolic” reasons around the Feb. 24 anniversary of the invasion, which Moscow persists in calling “a special military operation.”
Ukraine is itself planning a spring offensive to recapture lost territory, but it is awaiting delivery of promised longer-range Western missiles and battle tanks, and some analysts say the country was months away from being ready.
“We are seeing more and more (Russian) reserves being deployed in our direction, we are seeing more equipment being brought in...,” said Serhiy Haidai, Ukraine’s governor of the mainly Russian-occupied Luhansk province.
“They bring ammunition that is used differently than before — it is not round-the-clock shelling anymore. They are slowly starting to save, getting ready for a full-scale offensive,” Haidai told Ukrainian television.
“It will most likely take them 10 days to gather reserves. After Feb. 15 we can expect (this offensive) at any time.”
The war is reaching a pivotal point as its first anniversary approaches, with Ukraine no longer making gains as it did in the second half of 2022 and Russia pushing forward with hundreds of thousands of mobilized reserve troops.
Britain’s Defense Intelligence said in its daily report that Russia’s military has likely attempted since early January to restart major offensive operations aimed at capturing Ukraine-held parts of Donetsk.
However, Russian forces have gained little territory as they “lack munitions and maneuver units required for a successful offensive,” it said.
“Russian leaders will likely continue to demand sweeping advances. It remains unlikely that Russia can buiild up the forces needed to substantially affect the outcome of the war within the coming weeks.”
In his Monday evening address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said personnel changes on the border and frontline will bolster Ukraine’s military efforts amid uncertainty over the future of his defense minister, just as Russia advances in the east for the first time in six months.
Zelensky said he wanted to combine military and managerial experience in local and central government but did not directly address confusion about whether his defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, would be replaced.
On Sunday, David Arakhamia, head of Zelensky’s parliamentary bloc, said Reznikov would be transferred to another ministerial job, but on Monday he wrote that “there will be no personnel changes in the defense sector this week.”
Zelensky says he needs to show that Ukraine was a safe steward of billions of dollars of Western military and other aid, and his government is engaged in the biggest political and administrative shake-up since Russia’s invasion nearly a year ago.
“In a number of regions, particularly those on the border or on the front line, we will appoint leaders with military experience. Those who can show themselves to be the most effective in defending against existing threats,” he said.
The European Union said Zelensky has been invited to take part in a summit of EU leaders, amid reports he could be in Brussels as soon as this week, in what would be only his second known foreign trip since the invasion began.
Zelensky’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
NEW RUSSIAN OFFENSIVE
Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told Ukrainska Pravda on the weekend that intelligence suggested any new Russian offensive would likely come from the east or south.
“Their dream is to expand the land corridor to Crimea in order to continue supplies. Therefore, of course, the key risks are: the east, the south, and after that the north,” he said. Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.
Ukrainian defense analyst Oleksandr Kovalenko said a new Russian offensive could come from one of four directions; the eastern Luhansk region, the Donetsk region, the Zaporizhzhia region and the city and port of Mariupol.
“Things are more serious in Donetsk region, particularly around Bakhmut and Avdiivka. And the Russians will be boosting their contingents there as well as equipment and paratroops,” Kovalenko, from the “Information Resistance group” think tanks, told Ukrainian radio NV.
For months Russia’s main target in eastern Ukraine has been Bakhmut, where its state media said the Wagner mercenary group had gained a foothold. Ukraine said on Monday evening that Russian forces had trained tank, mortar and artillery fire there in the past 24 hours.
Kovalenko said Mariupol, captured by Russian forces last May, could be used by the Russians to bring in troops and equipment for a new offensive.
“It could serve as a transport hub for the Russian occupation forces,” he said.
Kovalenko said Ukraine’s counter-offensive would not happen any time soon and Ukrainian forces would be assuming a defensive position, particularly in Donetsk.
“It may be an active defense, but a defensive position nonetheless. The idea will remain to block any Russian advance,” he said.
“Things could change more quickly in other sectors. But this situation could go on for two to two-and-a-half months — that is the time required for providing the tanks for brigades, training and getting everything outfitted.”


North Korea pledges ‘expanded, intensified’ military drills

Updated 07 February 2023

North Korea pledges ‘expanded, intensified’ military drills

  • Pledge came after South Korea and US staged joint air drills

SEOUL: North Korea’s top army officials have said they will expand and intensify military drills to ensure their readiness for war, state media reported Tuesday, ahead of a massive parade.
The pledge came at a Monday meeting overseen by leader Kim Jong Un and follows last week’s staging of joint air drills by South Korea and the United States.
The agenda was topped by “the issue of constantly expanding and intensifying the operation and combat drills of the (Korean People’s Army) ... strictly perfecting the preparedness for war,” the official Korean Central News Agency said.
The meeting of North Korea’s central military commission comes as commercial satellite imagery suggests “extensive parade preparations” are underway in Pyongyang ahead of key state holidays this month.
North Korea celebrates the founding anniversary of its armed forces on Wednesday and the “Day of the Shining Star” on February 16. The latter is the birthday of Kim Jong Il, son of North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung and father of Kim Jong Un.
Seoul and Washington have moved to bolster joint military drills following a year of sanctions-busting weapons tests, infuriating Pyongyang, which sees them as rehearsals for invasion.
Last week, the security allies staged joint air drills featuring strategic bombers and stealth fighters, prompting Pyongyang to warn such exercises could “ignite an all-out showdown.”
The joint exercises, their first this year, came a day after US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his South Korean counterpart vowed to boost security cooperation to counter an increasingly belligerent nuclear-armed North.
North Korea’s foreign minister has said the move to ramp up joint drills crossed “an extreme red line.”
Experts say Monday’s meeting of North Korea’s top brass aimed to highlight the country’s readiness to face down upcoming joint military drills between South Korea and the United States — and also stress it was prepared for an actual war.
“North Korea is hinting about the possibility of military action in the future in the name of operational and combat training and war preparedness,” said Hong Min, researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification.
Kim recently called for an “exponential” increase in Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal, including mass-producing tactical nuclear weapons and developing new missiles for nuclear counterstrikes.
Kim has also said his country must “overwhelmingly beef up military muscle” in 2023 in response to what Pyongyang calls US and South Korean hostility.


A glance at the world’s deadliest earthquakes since 2000

Updated 07 February 2023

A glance at the world’s deadliest earthquakes since 2000

  • Over 4,000 people have been killed after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake shook Turkiye, Syria on Monday
  • Death toll expected to rise as rescue workers look for people trapped under rubble of toppled buildings

A magnitude 7.8 earthquake shook Turkiye and Syria on Monday, killing more than 4,000 people in the two countries. The death toll is expected to rise as rescuers working in cold and snow look for trapped people in the rubble of toppled buildings.
Here are some of the world’s deadliest earthquakes since 2000:
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— June 22, 2022: In Afghanistan, more than 1,100 people die in magnitude 6.1 earthquake.
— Aug. 14, 2021: In Haiti, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake kills more than 2,200 people.
— Sept. 28, 2018: A magnitude 7.5 earthquake hits Indonesia, killing more than 4,300 people.
— April 25, 2015: In Nepal, more than 8,800 people are killed by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake.
— March 11, 2011: A magnitude 9.0 quake off the northeast coast of Japan triggers a tsunami, killing nearly 20,000 people.
— Jan. 12, 2010: In Haiti, a staggering 316,000 people are killed by a magnitude 7.0 quake, according to government estimates.
— May 12, 2008: A magnitude 7.9 quake strikes eastern Sichuan in China, resulting in over 87,500 deaths.
— May 26, 2006: More than 5,700 people die when a magnitude 6.3 quake hits the island of Java, Indonesia.
— Oct. 8, 2005: A magnitude 7.6 earthquake kills over 80,000 people in Pakistan’s Kashmir region.
— March 28, 2005: A magnitude 8.6 quake in northern Sumatra in Indonesia kills about 1,300 people.
— Dec. 26, 2004: A magnitude 9.1 quake in Indonesia triggers an Indian Ocean tsunami, killing 230,000 people in a dozen countries.
— Dec. 26, 2003: A magnitude 6.6 earthquake hits southeastern Iran, resulting in 50,000 deaths.
— May 21, 2003: More than 2,200 people are killed in a magnitude 6.8 earthquake in Algeria.
— Jan. 26, 2001: A magnitude 7.7 quake strikes Gujarat in India, killing 20,000 people.
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Source: US Geological Survey


UN chief fears world is heading toward a wider war

Updated 07 February 2023

UN chief fears world is heading toward a wider war

  • Guterres fears likelihood of further escalation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict means the world is heading towards a "wider war”
  • World must work harder for peace not only in Ukraine but in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, UN chief says

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations chief warned Monday that the world is facing a convergence of challenges “unlike any in our lifetimes” and expressed fear of a wider war as the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine approaches.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said experts who surveyed the state of the world in 2023 set the Doomsday Clock at 90 seconds to midnight — the closest ever to “total global catastrophe,”
He pointed to the war in Ukraine, “runaway climate catastrophe, rising nuclear threats,” the widening gulf between the world’s haves and have-nots, and the “epic geopolitical divisions” undermining “global solidarity and trust.”
In a wide-ranging address Guterres urged the General Assembly’s 193 member nations to change their mindset on decision-making from near-term thinking, which he called “irresponsible” and “immoral,” to looking “at what will happen to all of us tomorrow — and act.”
He said this year’s 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should serve as a reminder that the foundation of the inalienable rights of all people is “freedom, justice and peace.”
Guterres said the transformation needed today must start with peace, beginning in Ukraine — where unfortunately, he said, peace prospects “keep diminishing” and “the chances of further escalation and bloodshed keep growing.”
“I fear the world is not sleepwalking into a wider war. It is doing so with its eyes wide open,” he said.
The world must work harder for peace, Guterres said, not only in Ukraine but in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict “where the two-state solution is growing more distant by the day,” in Afghanistan where the rights of women and girls “are being trampled and deadly terrorist attacks continue” and in Africa’s Sahel region where security is deteriorating “at an alarming rate.”
He also called for stepped up peace efforts in military-ruled Myanmar which is facing new violence and repression, in Haiti where gangs are holding the country hostage, “and elsewhere around the world for the two billion people who live in countries affected by conflict and humanitarian crises.”
The secretary-general said it is time for all countries to recommit to the UN Charter, which calls for peaceful settlement of disputes, and for a new focus on conflict prevention and reconciliation.
The proposed new UN Agenda for Peace, he said, calls for “a new generation of peace enforcement missions and counter-terrorist operations, led by regional forces,” with a UN Security Council mandate that can be enforced militarily and guaranteed funding. “The African Union is an obvious partner in this regard,” he added.
Guterres also said it is time for nuclear-armed countries to renounce the first use of all nuclear weapons, including tactical nuclear weapons, a possible use that Russia has raised in Ukraine.
“The so-called `tactical’ use of nuclear weapons is absurd,” he said. “We are at the highest risk in decades of a nuclear war that could start by accident or design. We need to end the threat posed by 13,000 nuclear weapons held in arsenals around the world.”
As for the global financial system, Guterres called for “radical transformation” to put the needs of developing countries at the center of every decision.
He pointed to rising poverty and hunger around the world, developing countries forced to pay five times more to borrow money than advanced economies, vulnerable middle-income countries denied concessional funding and debt relief, and the richest 1 percent of the world’s people capturing “almost half of all new wealth over the past decade.”
Multilateral development banks must change their business model, Guterres said.
Guterres told diplomats that 2023 must also be “a year of game-changing climate action,” not of excuses or baby steps — and there must be “no more bottomless greed of the fossil fuel industry and its enablers.”
The world must focus on cutting global-warming greenhouse gas emissions by half this decade, which means far more ambitious action to cut carbon pollution by speeding the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, especially in the world’s 20 richest global economies, he said.
It also means cutting emissions from the highest emitting industrial sectors — steel, cement, shipping and aviation, he said.
Guterres had a special message for fossil fuel producers who he said are scrambling to expand production “and raking in monster profits.”
“If you cannot set a credible course for net-zero, with 2025 and 2040 targets covering all your operations, you should not be in business,” he said.
The secretary-general invited any leader in government, business or civil society to the Climate Ambition Summit he is convening in September — with a condition.
“Show us accelerated action in this decade and renewed ambitious net zero plans — or please don’t show up,” Guterres said.


US imposes security zone in search for Chinese balloon remnants

Updated 07 February 2023

US imposes security zone in search for Chinese balloon remnants

  • China called the shooting down of the balloon an “obvious overreaction”

WASHINGTON: The US Coast Guard on Monday imposed a temporary security zone in waters off South Carolina during the military’s search and recovery of debris from a suspected Chinese spy balloon that a US fighter jet shot down.
The White House said the balloon’s flight over the United States had done nothing to improve already tense relations with China and its national security spokesperson dismissed Beijing’s contention that the balloon was for meteorological purposes as straining credulity.
Beijing condemned the shooting down of the balloon and urged Washington to show restraint over the episode. White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters: “Nobody wants to see conflict here.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a planned Feb.5-6 visit to China because of the balloon’s flight into US airspace last week. It was shot down off the Atlantic Coast on Saturday.
Kirby said Blinken would seek to reschedule the trip when the time is right.
The trip to Beijing would have been the first by a US secretary of state since 2018 as the United States and China have sought to mend ties that have been under severe strain over a range of disagreements, including US attempts to block Chinese access to some cutting-edge technologies.
INTELLIGENCE GATHERING
The United States was able to study the balloon while it was aloft and officials hope to glean valuable intelligence on its operations by retrieving as many components as possible, Kirby said.
China called the shooting down of the balloon an “obvious overreaction.”
“China firmly opposes and strongly protests against this,” Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng said in remarks to the US embassy in Beijing posted on the ministry’s website.
US officials have played down the balloon’s impact on national security, although a successful recovery could potentially give the United States insight into China’s spying capabilities.
Senior US officials have offered to brief former Trump administration officials on the details of what the White House said was three China balloon overflights when Donald Trump was president. US officials said those balloons came to light after Trump left office in January 2021 and was succeeded by President Joe Biden.
A senior US general responsible for bringing down the balloon said on Monday the military had not detected previous spy balloons before the one that appeared on Jan. 28 over the United States and called it an “awareness gap.”
However, Air Force General Glen VanHerck, head of US North American Aerospace Defense Command and Northern Command said US intelligence determined the previous flights after the fact based on “additional means of collection” of intelligence without offering further details on whether that might be cyber espionage, telephone intercepts or human sources.
On Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said China learned that its balloon had drifted over the United States after being notified by Washington.
“The unintended entry of this airship (into the US) is entirely an isolated, accidental incident. It tests the sincerity the US has in improving and stabilizing bilateral relations and the way it handles crises,” she said.
Mao said another balloon, spotted over Latin America, was an unmanned civilian airship on a test flight that “severely deviated and unintendedly entered the space above Latin America because it was affected by the weather and because it has limited self-steering capability.”
On Sunday, Colombia’s military said it sighted an airborne object similar to a balloon after the Pentagon said on Friday that another Chinese balloon was flying over Latin America.
POSSIBLE REPERCUSSIONS
While calling for US restraint, China has warned of “serious repercussions” and said it will use the necessary means to deal with “similar situations,” without elaborating. Some policy analysts said they expect any response to be finely calibrated, however, to prevent diplomatic ties becoming even worse.
Brokerage ING said in a Monday note that the incident could exacerbate the “tech war” and would have a negative near-term impact on China’s yuan currency.
“Both sides will likely impose more export bans on technology in different industries. This is a new threat to supply chain disruption, although the risk of logistical disruption from COVID restrictions has now disappeared,” it said.
“This new risk is more of a long-term risk than an imminent one,” ING said.