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Islamic State Claims Attack On Pakistan Police Academy

QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) – Middle East-based Islamic State on Tuesday said fighters loyal to their movement attacked a police training college in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, in a raid that officials said killed 59 people and wounded more than 100.

Pakistani authorities have blamed another militant group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), for the late-night siege, though the Islamic State claim included photographs of three alleged attackers.

Hundreds of trainees were stationed at the facility when masked gunmen stormed the college on the outskirts of Quetta late on Monday. Some cadets were taken hostage during the raid, which lasted nearly five hours. Most of the dead were cadets.

“Militants came directly into our barrack. They just barged in and started firing point-blank. We started screaming and running around in the barrack,” one police cadet who survived told media.

Other cadets spoke of jumping out of windows and cowering under beds as masked gunmen hunted them down. Video footage from inside one of the barracks showed blackened walls and rows of charred beds.

Islamic State’s Amaq news agency published the claim of responsibility, saying three IS fighters “used machine guns and grenades, then blew up their explosive vests in the crowd”.

Mir Sarfaraz Bugti, home minister of the province of Baluchistan, whose capital is Quetta, said the gunmen attacked a dormitory in the training facility, while cadets rested and slept.

“Two attackers blew up themselves, while a third one was shot in the head by security men,” Bugti said. Earlier, officials had said there were five to six gunmen.

A Reuters photographer at the scene said authorities carried out the body of a teenaged boy who they said was one of the attackers and had been shot dead by security forces.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army chief General Raheel Sharif both traveled to Quetta after the attack and participated in a special security meeting on Tuesday afternoon, the prime minister’s office said.

One of the top military commanders in Baluchistan, General Sher Afgun, told media that calls intercepted between the attackers and their handlers suggested they were from the sectarian Sunni militant group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).

“We came to know from the communication intercepts that there were three militants who were getting instructions from Afghanistan,” Afgun told media, adding that the Al Alami faction of LeJ was behind the attack.

LeJ, whose roots are in the heartland Punjab province, has a history of carrying out sectarian attacks in Baluchistan, particularly against the minority Hazara Shias. Pakistan has previously accused LeJ of colluding with al Qaeda.

Authorities launched a crackdown against LeJ last year, particularly in Punjab province. In a major blow to the organization, Malik Ishaq, the group’s leader, was killed in July 2015 alongside 13 members of the central leadership in what police say was a failed escape attempt.

“Two, three days ago we had intelligence reports of a possible attack in Quetta city, that is why security was beefed up in Quetta, but they struck at the police training college,” Sanaullah Zehri, chief minister of Baluchistan, told the Geo TV channel.

The Hakeemullah Mehsud faction of the Pakistani Taliban also claimed responsibility for the attack in an emailed statement, but when members of the group were asked about the statement, they could not confirm it was authentic.

ISLAMIC STATE

Pakistan has improved its security situation in recent years but Islamist groups continue to pose a threat and stage major attacks in the mainly Muslim nation of 190 million.

Islamic State has sought to make inroads over the past year, hoping to exploit the country’s growing sectarian divisions.

Monday night’s assault on the police college was the deadliest in Pakistan since a suicide bomber killed 70 people in an attack on mourners gathered at a hospital in Quetta in August.

The August attack was claimed by IS, but also by a Pakistani Taliban faction, Jamaat-ur-Ahrar.

The military had dismissed previous Islamic State claims of responsibility and last month said it had crushed the Middle East-based group’s attempt to expand in Pakistan. It also dismissed previous IS claims of responsibility as ‘propaganda’.

A photograph of the three alleged attackers released by Islamic State showed one individual with a striking resemblance to the picture of a dead gunman taken by a policeman inside the college, and shared with Reuters.

Analysts say Islamic State clearly has a presence in Pakistan and there is growing evidence that some local groups are working with IS.

“The problem with this government is that it seems to be in a complete state of denial,” said Zahid Hussain, an Islamabad-based security analyst.

HIDING UNDER BEDS

Wounded cadets spoke of scurrying for cover after being woken by the sound of bullets.

“I was asleep, my friends were there as well, and we took cover under the beds,” one unidentified cadet told Geo TV. “My friends were shot, but I only received a (small) wound on my head.”

Another cadet said he did not have ammunition to fight back.

Officals said the attackers targeted the center’s hostel, where around 200 to 250 police recruits were resting. At least three explosions were reported at the scene by media.

Quetta has long been regarded as a base for the Afghan Taliban, whose leadership has regularly held meetings there.

Baluchistan is no stranger to violence, with separatist fighters launching regular attacks on security forces for nearly a decade and the military striking back.

Militants, particularly sectarian groups, have also launched a campaign of suicide bombings and assassinations of minority Shias.

Attacks are becoming rarer but security forces need to be more alert, Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan warned.

“Our problem is that when an attack happens, we are alert for a week after, ten days later, until 20 days pass, (but) then it goes back to business as usual,” he said.

“We need to be alert all the time.”

(Additional reporting by Syed Raza Hassan in KARACHI, Saud Mehsud in DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Mehreen Zahra-Malik and Asad Hashim in ISLAMABAD, and Mohamed el Sherif in CAIRO; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Clarence Fernandez.

Photo: A police truck is seen at a gate to the Police Training Center after an attack on the center in Quetta, Pakistan October 25, 2016. REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed

Suicide Bomber Kills At Least 70 At Pakistan Hospital

QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) – A suicide bomber in Pakistan killed at least 70 people and wounded more than a hundred on Monday in an attack on mourners gathered at a hospital in Quetta, according to officials in the southwestern province of Baluchistan.

The bomber struck as a crowd of mostly lawyers and journalists crammed into the emergency department to accompany the body of a prominent lawyer who had been shot and killed in the city earlier in the day, Faridullah, a reporter who was among the wounded, told Reuters.

Abdul Rehman Miankhel, a senior official at the government-run Civil Hospital, where the explosion occurred, told reporters that at least 70 people had been killed, with more than 112 wounded, as the casualty toll spiked from initial estimates.

“There are many wounded, so the death toll could rise,” said Rehmat Saleh Baloch, the provincial health minister.

Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, a faction of the Islamist militant Pakistani Taliban group, claimed responsibility for the attack in an email.

It was not immediately clear if the group had carried out the bombing, as it is believed to have claimed responsibility for attacks in the past that it was not involved in.

“The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat-ur-Ahrar (TTP-JA) takes responsibility for this attack, and pledges to continue carrying out such attacks,” said spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan in the statement.

Only last week, Jamaat was added to the United States’ list of global terrorists, triggering sanctions.

Television footage showed scenes of chaos at the hospital in Quetta, with panicked people fleeing through debris as smoke filled the hospital corridors.

Bodies lay strewn across a hospital courtyard shortly after the blast and pools of blood collected as emergency rescuers rushed to identify survivors.

PRIME MINISTER VISITS

The motive behind the attack was unclear, but several lawyers have been targeted during a recent spate of killings in Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan which has a history of militant and separatist violence.

The latest victim, Bilal Anwar Kasi, was shot and killed while on his way to the city’s main court complex, senior police official Nadeem Shah told Reuters. He was the president of Baluchistan Bar Association.

The subsequent suicide attack appeared to target his mourners, Anwar ul Haq Kakar, a spokesman for the Baluchistan government, said.

“It seems it was a pre-planned attack,” he said.

Ali Zafar, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, told reporters in the eastern city of Lahore:

“We (lawyers) have been targeted because we always raise our voice for people’s rights and for democracy…Lawyers will not just protest this attack but also prepare a long-term plan of action.”

Police cordoned off the hospital following the blast, with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief General Raheel Sharif paying visits to the wounded on Monday evening.

In January, a suicide bomber killed 15 people outside a polio eradication centre in an attack claimed by both the Pakistani Taliban and Jundullah, another Islamist militant group that has pledged allegiance to Islamic State in the Middle East.

Monday’s attack was the worst in Pakistan since an Easter Day bombing ripped through a Lahore park, killing at least 72 people. Jamaat-ur-Ahrar also claimed responsibility for that atrocity.

Quetta has long been regarded as a base for the Afghan Taliban, whose leadership has regularly held meetings there in the past.

In May, Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed by a U.S. drone strike while traveling to Quetta from the Pakistan-Iran border.

 

Additional reporting by Mehreen Zahra-Malik in Islamabad; Writing by Asad Hashim; Editing by Paul Tait, Simon Cameron-Moore and Mike Collett-White

Photo: First responders and volunteers transport an injured man away from the scene of a bomb blast outside a hospital in Quetta, Pakistan August 8, 2016. REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed

Pakistan Can’t Confirm Taliban Leader Is Dead, Criticizes U.S. Drone Strike

By Asad Hashim and Syed Raza Hassan

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s interior minister said on Tuesday he could not confirm that Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour had been killed in a U.S. drone strike, and described Washington’s justification for the attack as “against international law”.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday that Mansour had been killed in the drone strike, and the Pentagon said separately that Mansour was plotting attacks that posed “specific, imminent threats” to U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told reporters that the body recovered on Pakistani soil, near the Afghan border, was charred beyond recognition, adding that DNA samples would be tested against a relative who had come forward to claim the body.

“The government of Pakistan cannot announce this without a scientific and legal basis,” Khan told a news briefing.

He did not identify the relative or say whether he or she claimed to be related to the Taliban leader or someone else.

Two U.S. officials told Reuters that U.S. intelligence and military agencies used multiple streams of intelligence, including human intelligence and electronic surveillance to locate and identify the car carrying Mansour.

That enabled multiple drones operated by the Joint Special Operations Command to incinerate the car when it reached an empty stretch of road in a remote area where there was little danger of causing civilian casualties.

“There were multiple forms of intelligence attributed to tracking him down,” a U.S. official said.

Khan rejected the U.S. argument that it could launch attacks across borders in order to protect its interests.

“For the U.S. government to say that whoever is a threat to them will be targeted wherever they are, that is against international law,” he said. “And if every country in the world adopts this rule, it will be the law of the jungle.”

Pakistan and the United States have been uneasy allies in the war against the Taliban and other Islamist militants in the region.

Critics in Afghanistan and the United States accuse Pakistan of allowing the Afghan Taliban’s leadership to take shelter on its territory, something that Islamabad has denied.

The militant movement has made territorial gains and carried out a series of deadly attacks across Afghanistan since NATO forces officially wound down their combat mission at the end of 2014, undermining the Western-backed government in Kabul.

Recent events echo those in 2011, when U.S. special forces raided a building in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad that killed longtime al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, infuriating and severely embarrassing Islamabad.

 

CROSS-BORDER STRIKE?

Khan said the car was destroyed on Pakistani territory but was fired “from another country”, presumably Afghanistan, where more than 10,000 U.S. and coalition troops remain.

Khan added that Pakistani authorities were also investigating a passport bearing the name of Wali Muhammad, which was found near the burned out shell of the car believed to have been the target of the drone attack.

He confirmed the passport in question had been used to travel from Pakistani airports multiple times, and that it held valid visas for Iran, Dubai and Bahrain.

If the travel document proves to have been used by Mansour himself, it would raise fresh questions about how the Taliban leader was able to move freely in and out of Pakistan and whether he had help from the country’s security apparatus.

Khan on Tuesday disputed that elements of Pakistan’s security apparatus supported the Taliban leadership.

“If (Mansour) was availing Pakistani intelligence agency support and help, would he be traveling like this?,” he asked, referring to reports that the target was alone with a single driver.

The circumstances surrounding the killing remain murky, including how the U.S. verified it was Mansour who was killed in the attack and how any documents could be recovered from the fiery scene.

“You could not see a spot of paint … that’s how bad it was hit,” Khan said. “How was a passport lying just a few yards away? So first we have to establish that, whether he was actually using it.”

The Taliban have not issued any official statements on Mansour since Saturday’s drone strike.

However, Taliban officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said Mansour is dead and a council is meeting to choose a successor, the second such leadership shura in a year after the death of the movement’s founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar, was confirmed in 2015.

 

MYSTERIOUS PASSPORT

Authorities in Quetta, the Baluchistan capital, showed a copy of the recovered passport, which has a photo bearing a strong likeness to the officially released Taliban picture of Mansour, to a Reuters reporter.

They also noted that it bore an exit stamp from Iran’s land border with Pakistan dated May 21, the day of the drone strike.

Pakistani immigration records show that the Wali Muhammad passport was used at least 18 times since 2006 to travel internationally, two senior officials in the Federal Investigation Agency, which manages borders, told Reuters.

One of the officials in the southwestern province of Baluchistan said the passport was used mostly over the land border with Iran and from the airport in the southern city of Karachi, with the last exit from Karachi en route to Dubai on March 31, 2015.

The second official reviewed computerized records of the passport and said there were “18 travel events” from Karachi airport starting in 2007, with the last arrival at Karachi on April 2, 2015.

A spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry was quoted on state media denying that such an individual had crossed the border from Iran to Pakistan at the time in question.

Authorities in the United Arab Emirates did not respond to questions on whether Mansour might have entered Dubai using an assumed name or whether there was any record of a Wali Muhammad visiting.

 

(Additional reporting by Gul Yousufzai in QUETTA, Idrees Ali and Mark Hosenball in Washington.; Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Alan Crosby)

 

 

 

 

 

New Amnesty Report: Increase In Executions Worldwide, Decrease In Countries With Death Penalty

Amnesty International released its 2015 report on the global state of the death penalty and executions on Wednesday morning in London. The year was marked by an unprecedented increase in executions, but also by an smaller number of countries pursuing the death penalty.

Despite the 54 percent spike in executions versus 2014, the majority of executions took place in three countries, excluding China: Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Those countries not only lead the world in executions, but also experienced large respective increases in executions: Iran by 31 percent, resulting in 977 executions during 2015; Saudi Arabia by 76 percent, with 158 executions last year; and Pakistan, whose government had imposed a moratorium on the death penalty since 2008, but reinstated it following the December 2014 Peshawar school attack that left 132 children dead. Since lifting the ban, the country has executed 326 people.

The report noted that the death penalty was often used to get rid of political opponents, rather than as a tool of justice.

In almost all regions of the world, the death penalty continued to be used as a tool by governments to respond to real or perceived threats to state security and public safety posed by “terrorism”, crime or political instability, despite the lack of evidence that the death penalty is any more of a deterrent to violent crime than a term of imprisonment.

The report also singled out United States for being the only country in the Americas to continue to use the death penalty over the past seven years. Amnesty also expressed concern over the execution of people with mental or intellectual disabilities. In many cases, the report said, the U.S. continued to “use the death penalty in ways that contravene international law and standards.” Nevertheless, only 28 executions were carried out last year, compared to 35 in 2014.

The report noticeably excluded China. Since 2009, the organization hasn’t printed China’s execution statistics, due to a lack of transparency from the Chinese government. While it’s estimated that more than 1,000 people were executed in China in 2015, the numbers could not be verified because statistics on executions are a state secret.

Despite the increase in executions globally, Amnesty said 2015 had more countries abolish the death penalty than ever before. In its report, it noted:

When Amnesty International began campaigning for abolition in 1977, only 16 countries had fully abolished the death penalty. Today the majority of the world’s countries are fully abolitionist, and dozens more have not implemented death sentences for more than a decade, or have given clear indications that they are moving towards full abolition. The starkly opposing developments that mark 2015 underscore the extent to which the countries that use the death penalty are becoming the isolated minority.

Photo: The “death house” at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. Photo: Caroline Groussain via AFP