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History > 2018 > USA > International > Global terrorism (I)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pakistan Election Day Bombing

Kills Dozens

 

JULY 23, 2018

The New York Times

By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN,

SALMAN MASOOD

and RUSSELL GOLDMAN

 

LAHORE, Pakistan — At least 31 people were killed on Wednesday in a suicide bombing outside a polling station in Quetta, Pakistan, hospital officials said, raising the death toll in what has already been one of the bloodiest elections in the country’s history.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, where an attack earlier this month killed more than 150 people, including a provincial assembly candidate.

The vote on Wednesday, in which a new prime minister will be elected, is only the second time in Pakistan’s 70-year history that power will be transferred from one civilian government to another.

Party officials said turnout was surprisingly strong across Lahore, one of Pakistan’s biggest cities. Many of the people who streamed out of the heavily guarded polling stations said they had voted for Imran Khan, the celebrity cricket player who has presented himself as an alternative to the family political dynasties that have dominated Pakistan for decades.

With early results being counted across the country, Mr. Khan’s party was surging ahead. His party, Movement for Justice, appeared to have taken 107 seats to the next party, which had 68 seats.

Mr. Khan’s supporters said he was less corrupt than other candidates and that he would work to alleviate poverty and bolster Pakistan’s image on the world stage. But they also praised his embrace of pious Islam.

“I voted for him because I voted for the prophet,” said Ghulam Sarwar Fardee, a retired revenue officer. “Khan stands behind the blasphemy laws, and there’s nothing more important than God.”

Mr. Khan’s face was everywhere — on banners, lampposts and torn flags flying from rickshaws. His supporters seemed the most enthused and confident as they awaited the initial results, expected to be announced Wednesday evening.

More Pakistani women than ever were registered to vote in this election. But in one village near Peshawar, in the north, tribal elders were blocking hundreds of women from voting and representatives from the major political parties were trying to negotiate a way for the women to cast ballots.

The election could have been an occasion for Pakistanis to celebrate their democracy. Instead, the campaign has been marred by a series of attacks on candidates and campaign rallies, suppression of the news media, accusations of manipulation by the military and a rise in extreme Islamist candidates.


What Is at Stake in the Election?

The election comes at a critical moment for a country of 200 million people and for a region stressed by war. Pakistan is a nuclear state, an antipathetic but important American ally, and one of the largest Muslim-majority countries in the world.

Pakistan’s politics have always been messy: The country has routinely toggled between elected governments and military dictatorships, and a prime minister has never completed his or her entire five-year term. But this year’s campaign has been particularly fraught, given the military’s efforts to push the former governing party out of the running.

Despite that manipulation, the election on Wednesday will serve as a kind of referendum on some of the most crucial issues facing the country. Should Pakistan orient its economy toward the West or toward China? Is its democracy robust enough to include extremist candidates who support militancy, or should they be limited? Can the military and the courts be trusted as impartial and objective institutions?

Wedged between Afghanistan, where an American-led war has stretched on for 17 years, and its historical rival India, Pakistan is always at risk of a conflagration. It has served both as a crucial base for American forces fighting in Afghanistan and as a powerful obstacle to those same troops, secretly offering aid and safe harbor to militant groups, including the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
 

An Economic Crisis

But Pakistan’s problems are not just about regional security — they are also about its ability to provide opportunity for its own people, including a growing class of young and educated Pakistanis. Despite its size and potential, the country’s economy has lagged, and it faces persistent problems with corruption and environmental stress.

As tensions with the United States and other Western countries have intensified — particularly over accusations that Pakistan is not doing enough to curb the Afghan Taliban and other militant groups — Pakistan has increasingly turned to China for aid and support. But that pivot has come with its own problems, including concern over the quickly increasing amount of debt Pakistan is racking up with China.
Who Is Running?

There are 122 parties fielding candidates in the election. They all promise jobs, social welfare and housing plans. But the overarching theme of the election has become the confrontation between the military and the governing party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, or P.M.L.-N. The party accuses the military of intimidating some of its leading figures into defecting to other blocs, and of unfairly supporting Mr. Khan.
 


Imran Khan

Mr. Khan, 65, is a former international cricket star who has promised an alternative to the corruption and the entrenched political dynasties voters associate with the other leading parties. His rivals attribute his surge in the polls to a back-room deal struck with the military, which they claim has worked to undermine the election. Mr. Khan has denied that accusation, chalking up the accusations of meddling to sour grapes.

Mr. Khan, whose success on the cricket pitch made him a household name, has held a seat in the National Assembly for five years but has never run a government. A large number of independent candidates are expected to join his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or P.T.I., if it wins.
 


Shehbaz Sharif

Nawaz Sharif, a three-time prime minister, was ousted last year by the country’s Supreme Court. He was convicted of corruption and is now in prison after returning from London this month to be arrested. Mr. Sharif says those court decisions were made under pressure from the military, which opposed his attempts as prime minister to reassert control over the country’s defense and foreign policy.

But his family remains politically powerful. His younger brother, Shehbaz Sharif, 66, is the current president of the P.M.L.-N. and hopes to lead the country. Until recently, he was the chief minister of Punjab, the most populous and prosperous of the country’s four provinces and the party’s biggest source of support.
 


Bilawal Bhutto Zardari

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, 29, is the scion of one of Pakistan’s most illustrious and star-crossed dynasties. He is the son and grandson of two former prime ministers, Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was executed. His father, former President Asif Ali Zardari, is considered to wield the real power in the left-leaning Pakistan Peoples Party.

The younger Mr. Zardari is not expected to win, but he could potentially play kingmaker if neither Mr. Khan nor Mr. Sharif receives enough votes to form a government.
Will Extremists Affect the Outcome?

Pakistan was recently added to the Financial Action Task Force’s “gray list” of state sponsors of terrorism, increasing pressure on the country to crack down on extremist groups. At nearly the same time, however, the country’s electoral commission was paving the way for more candidates with extremist ties to run for office.

Among the parties seeking seats on Wednesday are Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek, the reconstituted version of a party that officials had previously banned, and Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan, which backs the country’s contentious blasphemy laws.

 

Jeffrey Gettleman reported from Lahore, Pakistan; Salman Masood from Islamabad, Pakistan; and Russell Goldman from Hong Kong.

A version of this article appears in print on July 25, 2018, on Page A5 of the New York edition with the headline: Crucial Election for a Nuclear Power. Order Reprints| Today's Paper|Subscribe
 

Death Toll

in Pakistan Suicide Bombing

Rises to 128

 

July 14, 2018

The New York Times

By Salman Masood

 

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The death toll in a suicide bombing that targeted an election campaign event in southwestern Pakistan rose to 128 on Saturday, the deadliest terror attack in the country this year.

The attack, which took place on Friday in the restive province of Baluchistan, has renewed concerns that violence could disrupt national elections scheduled for July 25.

Pakistan is preparing for its second democratic transition after military rule, but a number of terrorist attacks targeting candidates and a growing sense of political unrest and turmoil threaten to undermine the credibility of the election.

Four such assaults have struck in the past week alone, with two candidates among those killed.

The federal government announced a day of mourning after the latest blast, with national flags at half-staff in all government buildings in Baluchistan, where two days of mourning were decreed. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack on Friday.

In the assault, Nawabzada Mir Siraj Khan Raisani, 55, a candidate for the provincial assembly, had just arrived at a campaign gathering in a town in the district of Mastung when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives.

Mr. Raisani, who was among those killed, was a candidate of the Baluchistan Awami Party, a newly formed group that is seen as being backed by the Pakistani military.

The explosion ripped through the meeting and left a trail of devastation and destruction. The victims were ferried to the provincial capital, Quetta, because the health facilities in Mastung were unable to cope with the number of the wounded and the extent of their injuries.

Agha Umar Bangluzai, the interim home minister of Baluchistan, said 128 had been killed and at least 180 others wounded in the attack. Local news media, however, said the death toll was at least 131 and expected to rise.

Mr. Bangluzai said political parties had been told to inform the local authorities three days before holding any election events, but that had not happened on this occasion. “We have put a restriction on any political gatherings for two days in Baluchistan,” he added.

Lashkari Raisani, the elder brother of the candidate who was killed, blamed the military for not doing enough to curb the violence. “The state should stop its double game,” he said. “It should go after all militant groups. We have blood everywhere.”

Mastung has a history of deadly sectarian and militant violence. Mr. Raisani escaped a bombing in the district in 2011, when an explosion ripped through a prize ceremony after a soccer match. He was unhurt, but his teenage son and 24 other people were killed.

Last year, Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, a senior politician, escaped an assassination attempt in Mastung when his convoy was targeted in an explosion. Mr. Haideri survived with injuries, but at least 25 other people were killed in the attack that was also claimed by the Islamic State. In the past, extremist Sunni groups in the district have targeted Shiite pilgrims making their way to Iran.

Officials in Pakistan deny that the Islamic State has an established presence in the country. They say that members of banned local militant groups, especially Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, operate on behalf of the Islamic State in places like Baluchistan.

But Muhammad Amir Rana, a security analyst who is the director of Pak Institute for Peace Studies, an Islamabad-based think tank, said the Islamic State had been active in the region and had targeted government and security forces.

“It is an intelligence failure, but the attack was expected,” Mr. Rana said. “Last year, at least four big terror attacks in Baluchistan were claimed by the Islamic State.”

Mastung has a complex profile, he added. Several nonviolent sectarian groups are also active in the district, and it has a significant number of radical religious schools.

Mr. Rana said that despite the increased attacks, he did not see an immediate threat to the elections.

“The violence is currently limited to regions where the militants have been active and concentrated for a long time,” he said. “Unless militant attacks move to the urban areas, especially big cities in Punjab Province, I don’t think the elections would be affected.”

Several candidates, however, have complained that their ability to campaign has been affected because of the recent attacks. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, was not allowed to address an election event in northwestern Pakistan by the authorities, party officials said on Saturday.

Shah Meer Baloch contributed reporting from Karachi, Pakistan.


A version of this article appears in print on July 15, 2018, on Page A12 of the New York edition with the headline: Deaths in Suicide Attack In Pakistan Climb to 128.

Death Toll in Pakistan Suicide Bombing Rises to 128,
July 14, 2018,
NYT,
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/14/
world/asia/pakistan-suicide-bombing-election.html

 

 

 

 

 

French Police Officer

Wounded in Hostage Standoff Dies

 

March 23, 2018

The New York Times

By Aurelien Breeden


PARIS — A French police officer who was badly wounded on Friday after taking the place of a gunman’s hostage has died from his injuries, Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said on Saturday.

“France will never forget his heroism, his bravery, his sacrifice,” Mr. Collomb said of the police officer, Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame, on Twitter.

Le lieutenant-colonel Arnaud Beltrame nous a quittés.
Mort pour la patrie.
Jamais la France n’oubliera son héroïsme, sa bravoure, son sacrifice.
Le coeur lourd, j’adresse le soutien du pays tout entier à sa famille, ses proches et ses compagnons de la @Gendarmerie de l’Aude. pic.twitter.com/I1h8eO7f9a
— Gérard Collomb (@gerardcollomb) March 24, 2018

The death of Colonel Beltrame, 44, brought the toll from Friday’s outburst of violence to five, including the gunman, who the authorities said had hijacked a car, shot at police officers and taken hostages in a supermarket in southwestern France.

The gunman, identified as Radouane Lakdim, 25, who witnesses said claimed to be acting on behalf of the Islamic State, was later killed by police officers who stormed the market. Colonel Beltrame, who the authorities said had voluntarily exchanged himself for a hostage, was wounded in the exchange of fire.

The attack rattled nerves in a country that has been hit hard by terrorism in recent years, and it underscored the threat posed by individuals inspired by terrorist propaganda but who act outside of any structured networks, making it difficult for intelligence services to monitor them.

“The level of the terrorist threat on our territory has not waned,” said François Molins, the Paris prosecutor, who handles terrorism investigations nationwide. “It is the result of radicalized individuals who are on our national territory.”

Whether or not Mr. Lakdim, the attacker, had any direct contact with the Islamic State remained unclear. He was born in Morocco but lived in Carcassonne, about 60 miles southeast of Toulouse, and was known to the police as a petty criminal and drug dealer. He had previous convictions for illegally carrying a firearm and possessing drugs.

Mr. Molins said that Mr. Lakdim had been flagged by French intelligence services in 2014 “because of his radicalization and of his ties to the Salafist movement,” and that he had been under surveillance in 2016 and 2017.

But Mr. Molins said the surveillance had not uncovered “any precursory sign that could have foretold a terrorist act.” He denied reports that Mr. Lakdim had tried to travel to Syria.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, describing the assailant as a “soldier of the Islamic State” and the attack as a response to its call to target “coalition countries,” meaning countries that have fought against the group.

The wording suggested that the attacker was inspired by the Islamic State, rather than directed by it. The group has made clear that no direct link is needed to carry out attacks in its name, although some of the deadliest assaults in Europe have been perpetrated by sympathizers guided by Islamic State operatives online.

Mr. Molins said that Mr. Lakdim first hijacked a car in Carcassonne on Friday morning, killing the passenger and wounding the driver. He then targeted a group of police officers returning to their barracks after a jog, shooting at them and wounding one.

Finally, Mr. Lakdim drove to the market, the Super U in nearby Trèbes, where he killed two more people and took several hostages. Colonel Beltrame voluntarily traded places with one, according to the authorities. He left his phone on a table with an open line, enabling the police outside to listen in, according to Mr. Collomb, the interior minister.

After more gunshots were heard, the police stormed the store and killed Mr. Lakdim. Colonel Beltrame was “seriously wounded” in the exchange of gunfire, Mr. Collomb said Friday.

Mr. Macron, speaking from the Interior Ministry in Paris on Friday after returning from a European Union summit meeting in Brussels, said Colonel Beltrame had “saved lives” and honored his profession and his country.

About 50 people were in the market in Trèbes at the time of the attack, Mr. Molins said, although he could not specify how many were taken hostage. The gunman shouted “God is great” in Arabic as he entered, witnesses said.

“Saying that he was ready to die for Syria, he called for the liberation of his brothers, before shooting at a client and a store employee, who both died on the spot,” said Mr. Molins, speaking at a news conference in Carcassonne.

Several French news reports said that Mr. Lakdim had demanded the release of Salah Abdeslam — the only surviving member of the Islamic State group that killed 130 people in and around Paris in a series of coordinated attacks in November 2015 — from detention in France.

Mr. Collomb did not directly confirm those reports, saying only that he had called for the “liberation of prisoners” and that it was unclear how he had chosen his targets on Friday.

Christian Guibbert, a retired police officer, told reporters that he was shopping in the market with his wife and his sister-in-law when he heard gunshots and saw a “very agitated” man with a handgun and a knife, yelling and shooting into the ceiling.

“He was yelling threats at people, ‘Everybody on the ground,’” Mr. Guibbert said.

He said he hid his wife, his sister-in-law and other customers in a meat locker and then called the police. “That’s when he saw me and ran after me,” Mr. Guibbert said, describing how he escaped through an emergency exit.

France continues to be on high alert after deadly terrorist attacks struck the country in 2015 and 2016, mainly in Paris and Nice. Although there have not been any large attacks since the one in Nice in July 2016, there have been several smaller-scale assaults by lone individuals, and the French authorities regularly announce that new plots have been thwarted.

One of the first major cases of homegrown terrorism in France occurred in 2012, in the area around Toulouse, where Mohammed Merah killed three French soldiers and four others, including three children, at a Jewish school. He had traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan to seek training as a fighter.

The deadly attack in Trèbes is the first since Mr. Macron’s government lifted the state of emergency that had been in place since the November 2015 attacks and Parliament passed a counterterrorism law that made permanent some of the emergency measures.

France also recently unveiled plans to toughen its stance on combating extremism in prisons and schools.

 

 

Follow Aurelien Breeden on Twitter: @aurelienbrd.

Reporting was contributed by Anne-Sophie Bolon from London; Rukmini Callimachi from New York; and Elian Peltier, Tanguy Garrel-Jaffrelot, Alissa J. Rubin and Adam Nossiter from Paris.

A version of this article appears in print on March 24, 2018,
on Page A7 of the New York edition with the headline: French Hostage Standoff Ends With Four Dead.

French Police Officer Wounded in Hostage Standoff Dies,
NYT,
March 23, 2018,
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/23/world/europe/france-trebes-attack.html

 

 

 

 

 

‘It’s a Massacre’:

Blast in Kabul

Deepens Toll of a Long War

 

JAN. 27, 2018

The New York Times

By MUJIB MASHAL

and JAWAD SUKHANYAR

 

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban drove an ambulance packed with explosives into a crowded Kabul street on Saturday, setting off an enormous blast that killed at least 95 people and injured 158 others, adding to the grim toll in what has been one of the most violent stretches of the long war, Afghan officials said.

The attack came days after a 15-hour siege by militants at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul that left 22 dead, including 14 foreigners.

On Saturday, hospitals overflowed with the wounded, and forensic workers at the morgue struggled to identify the dead.

The casualties were another reminder of how badly Afghanistan is bleeding. Over the past year, about 10,000 of the country’s security forces have been killed and more than 16,000 others wounded, according to a senior Afghan government official. The Taliban losses are believed to be about the same.

And about 10 civilians were killed every day on average over the first nine months of 2017, data from the United Nations suggests.

The surge in violence across the country, particularly deadly attacks that have shut down large parts of Afghan cities, comes as the government is in disarray.

President Ashraf Ghani has struggled to build consensus and has recently found himself in a protracted showdown with a regional strongman, a dispute that has taken up much of the administration’s energy. The strongman, Atta Muhammad Noor, a powerful governor, was fired by the president but has refused to leave his post, raising fears that escalating political tensions could further undermine the country’s fragile security.

The recent carnage is also tied, analysts said, to President Trump’s decision last month to increase pressure on Pakistan, long seen as supporting the Taliban as a proxy force in Afghanistan. Mr. Trump made a gamble to try to tilt the war in Afghanistan toward a resolution, holding back security aid to Pakistan for what he called the country’s “lies and deceit.”

At the time of the announcement, many Afghan officials feared an immediate escalation in violence in retaliation and wondered whether their shaky government could absorb the blows.

On Saturday, Mr. Trump issued a statement denouncing the attack. “I condemn the despicable car bombing attack in Kabul today that has left scores of innocent civilians dead and hundreds injured,” he said. “The Taliban’s cruelty will not prevail. The United States is committed to a secure Afghanistan that is free from terrorists who would target Americans, our allies, and anyone who does not share their wicked ideology.”

In last weekend’s attack, Taliban militants barged into the highly guarded Intercontinental Hotel, battling security forces in an hourslong siege. At least 14 of their victims were foreign citizens, including Americans, and nine were pilots and flight crew members from Ukraine and Venezuela who worked for a private Afghan airline, Kam Air.

At the time of Saturday’s attack, Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the commander of the United States Central Command, which oversees military operations in the region, was in Kabul. He met with Mr. Ghani, and officials aware of the discussion said Pakistan was much of the focus.

Anger at the Afghan government for its dysfunction and ineffectiveness in the face of violence was palpable on the streets.

At the site of the explosion, an old man, his clothes stained with blood, sat on the ground and wailed. He cursed the two leaders of the Afghan government — President Ghani and his coalition partner, Abdullah Abdullah — for the security lapses. He said his son was dead.

“May God punish you, may Allah punish you both,” the old man repeated. “There is nothing left for me anymore — come kill me and my family, too.”

Saturday’s explosion occurred on a guarded street that leads to an old Interior Ministry building and several embassies. Many ministry departments still have offices there, and visitors line up every day for routine business.

“I saw a flame that blinded my eyes, then I went unconscious,” said Nazeer Ahmad, 45, who suffered a head wound. “When I opened my eyes, I saw bodies lying on the ground.”

“It’s a massacre,” said Dejan Panic, the coordinator in Afghanistan for the Italian aid group Emergency, which runs a nearby trauma center. At least 131 people were brought to the group’s Kabul hospital.

Baseer Mujahid, a spokesman for the Kabul police, said the bomber drove past the first checkpoint, at the entrance to the street. The police had allowed it to pass because it was an ambulance, and one of the city’s main hospitals was just beyond the checkpoint.

“Police stopped the vehicle at the second checkpoint,” Mr. Mujahid said. “Then he tried to drive in from the wrong lane. Again, the police tried to stop him. But he detonated the explosive-laden vehicle.”

At Malalai maternity hospital, near the carnage, health workers said the explosion had briefly interrupted their work, and jolted patients out of their beds. Then, the staff continued to bring new life into a violent world.

“It has become normal in Afghanistan,” a midwife said. “Every day, we hear these kind of sounds.”

Others at the hospital were deeply affected. Abdul Khaliq, who anxiously waited in the hospital yard, said his sister-in-law had given birth through cesarean section just days ago.

“During the suicide attack, she was at the hospital and now she is shocked. She doesn’t want to breast-feed her baby,” Mr. Khaliq said. “Her doctor is trying to convince her that everything is O.K., but she cries and says nothing.”

Tadamichi Yamamoto, the chief of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, condemned the attack as “nothing short of an atrocity” and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

“I am particularly disturbed by credible reports that the attackers used a vehicle painted to look like an ambulance, including bearing the distinctive medical emblem, in clear violation of international humanitarian law,” Mr. Yamamoto said

Later in the day, family members lined up outside the morgue at the Kabul forensic medical department, trying to identify their loved ones. The staff could not draw a list of the victims because most were unidentifiable, or did not carry any documentation.

After the remains were cleaned, the staff lined them up in the yard outside and allowed family members to walk around and identify them. Once remains were identified, the morgue staff would write the name on the forehead, or on the chest if the head was missing.

For some, though, the search continued.

“My cousin was a police officer; he was the person who stopped the ambulance laden with explosives,” said Attaul Haq, 36, who waited outside the morgue. “He was 28, he had a son and a daughter.”

 

 

Fatima Faizi, Fahim Abed and Charles O’Malley
contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on January 28, 2018, on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline:
Blast in Kabul Deepens Toll Of Long War.

‘It’s a Massacre’: Blast in Kabul Deepens Toll of a Long War,
NYT,
Jan. 27, 2018,
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/27/
world/asia/afghanistan-kabul-attack.html

 

 

 

 

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