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Ten mine-clearing workers killed in Afghanistan gun attack | Taliban News

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Masked gunmen have stormed the compound of a mine-clearing organisation in northern Afghanistan, killing at least 10 workers and wounding 16 others.

There were 110 workers at the camp of the HALO Trust charity in Baghlan province at the time of the attack on Tuesday night.

James Cowan, chief executive of the UK-based organisation, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday the gunmen “wanted to find specific people of a particular ethnic group”.

The government blamed the Taliban for the attack, but the armed group denied responsibility. There has been no claim of responsibility.

HALO Trust said the group’s fighters actually helped end the raid, which happened as dozens of deminers were relaxing at the compound after a day spent looking for ordnance in the area.

“The local Taliban actually came to our assistance, and the Taliban itself has denied responsibility – so my suspicion is that it’s a different organisation,” Cowan said.

A survivor told AFP news agency that five or six armed men scaled the compound walls and gathered everyone together before asking if there were any Hazara present.

“Nobody responded,” said the survivor, who asked not to be identified.

He said the gunmen then asked the compound leader to identify himself, before shooting him dead.

“Then one of them said ‘kill them all’,” he added. “As they opened fire, we all tried to escape. Some were killed and some, like me, were wounded.”

Afghanistan’s Shia Hazara community –  a group accounting for up to 15 percent of Afghanistan’s estimated 30 million population – is often targeted by fighters from the ISIL (ISIS) group, who consider them heretics.

An official in the area said most of the surviving workers fled to nearby villages after the attack and police were working to help them.

Afghanistan ‘biggest program’

Fighting between the Taliban and government forces has surged across Afghanistan – including Baghlan – since May 1, when the United States military began its final troop withdrawal amid a deadlock in peace talks between Kabul and the armed group.

On Wednesday, Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh blamed the Taliban for the attack on the HALO base, alleging in a tweet the group’s fighters wanted to “steal money and unexploded devices” from the compound.

The Taliban dismissed the government’s accusation.

“We condemn attacks on the defenseless & view it as brutality,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter.

“We have normal relations with NGOs, our Mujahideen will never carry out such brutal acts.”

 

In several districts where fighting has been intense in recent months, the fighters have planted roadside bombs and mines to target government forces, but the explosives often kill and wound civilians.

Afghanistan was already one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, a legacy of decades of conflict.

The HALO Trust was founded in 1988 specifically to tackle ordnance left following the near 10-year Soviet occupation.

“Afghanistan is our biggest programme, we have nearly 3,000 staff there, they are very proud of the fact that they’re Afghans,” Cowan said. “They come from different communities within Afghanistan and they do amazing work to save lives.”

The United Nations Resident Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov condemned what he said was a “heinous attack” on HALO workers.

“It is repugnant that an organisation that works to clear landmines and other explosives and better the lives of vulnerable people could be targeted,” he said in a statement.

In another incident, an Afghan army helicopter on Wednesday crashed in Wardak province, to the west of the capital, Kabul, killing three crew members on board, the defence ministry said.

The Taliban said its fighters had shot the helicopter down but the ministry said the helicopter was trying to make an emergency landing after developing a technical problem when it crashed.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Air raid kills dozens in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, say witnesses | Ethiopia News

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Witnesses say Tuesday’s attack targeted a busy market in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray village of Togoga.

Dozens of people have been reportedly killed after an air attack targeted a busy market in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray village of Togoga on Tuesday, a day after residents said fighting had flared north of the regional capital Mekelle.

The bomb hit the market at approximately 1pm (10:00 GMT), according to a woman who told Reuters news agency that her husband and two-year-old daughter were injured in the attack.

“We didn’t see the plane but we heard it,” she said. “When the explosion happened, everyone ran out. Later, we came back and were trying to pick up the injured.”

Two doctors and a nurse in Mekelle told the Associated Press (AP) they were unable to confirm how many people were killed, but one doctor said health workers at the scene reported “more than 80 civilian deaths”.

The health workers spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Increased fighting

The reported air attack comes amid some of the fiercest fighting in the Tigray region since the conflict began in November as Ethiopian forces supported by those from neighbouring Eritrea pursue Tigray’s former leaders.

Reuters reported that Ethiopian military spokesperson Colonel Getnet Adane did not confirm or deny the incident. He said air attacks were a common military tactic and the force does not target civilians.

Three other health workers told Reuters that the Ethiopian military was blocking ambulances from reaching the scene.

Wounded patients being treated at Mekele’s Ayder Hospital told health workers that a plane dropped a bomb on Togoga’s marketplace.

A nurse at the hospital said the wounded included a two-year-old child with “abdominal trauma” and a six-year-old. She added that an ambulance carrying a wounded baby to Mekelle was blocked for two hours and the baby died on the way.

Hailu Kebede, foreign affairs head for the Salsay Woyane Tigray opposition party and who comes from Togoga, told AP that one fleeing witness had counted more than 30 bodies and other witnesses were reporting more than 50 people killed.

“It was horrific,” said an official for an international aid group who told the AP he had spoken with a colleague and others at the scene.

“We don’t know if the jets were coming from Ethiopia or Eritrea. They are still looking for bodies by hand. More than 50 people were killed, maybe more.”

Witnesses said several more ambulances were turned back later in the day and on Wednesday morning, but one group of medical workers reached the site on Tuesday evening via a different route.

“We have been asking, but until now we didn’t get permission to go, so we don’t know how many people are dead,” said one of the doctors in Mekelle.

Another doctor said the Red Cross ambulance he was travelling in on Tuesday, trying to reach the scene, was shot at twice by Ethiopian soldiers who held his team for 45 minutes before ordering them back to Mekelle.

“We are not allowed to go,” he said. “They told us whoever goes, they are helping the troops of the TPLF.”

The TPLF refers to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which governed Tigray until it was overthrown by a federal government offensive in November. The subsequent fighting has killed thousands and forced more than two million people from their homes.

While the United Nations has said all sides have been accused of abuses, Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers have been repeatedly accused by witnesses of looting and destroying health centres across Tigray and denying civilians access to care.

This month, humanitarian agencies warned that 350,00 people in Tigray are facing famine. Aid workers have said they have been repeatedly denied access to several parts of the region by soldiers.

The government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed says it has nearly defeated the rebels. But forces loyal to the TPLF recently announced an offensive in parts of Tigray and have claimed a string of victories.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Deadly blast in Pakistan near residence of armed group founder | Pakistan News

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Three killed and 13 others wounded after explosion near house of Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed in Lahore.

At least three people have been killed and 13 others wounded after an explosion near the residence of the founder of armed group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, hospital and police officials said.

The blast took place in the Johar Town area of the city, Pakistan’s second largest, on Wednesday, provincial police chief Inam Ghani said.

“The [Counter Terrorism Department] has taken over the site of the attack completely,” Ghani told reporters at the site of the blast shortly after it took place.

“The CTD will ascertain what it was, what material it was, what was used … and secondly, was it an [improvised explosive device] lodged in a vehicle, and whether it is a suicide attack or not.”

Ghani said a police picket that was set up near the home of a “high-value target” was the apparent target of the attack.

Television footage from the scene showed significant damage to a number of homes near the blast site [Arif Ali / AFP]

A residence belonging to Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of LeT that is designated as a “terrorist” group under Pakistani law and by the United Nations, is located near the site of the blast.

“The biggest target that we see right now is that they are targeting law enforcement agencies,” Ghani said.

Television footage from the scene showed massive damage to a number of homes near the blast site, with windows smashed in, doors blown open and extensive damage to buildings close to the blast epicentre.

At least 16 wounded people were shifted to the nearby government-run Jinnah Hospital, with three of them succumbing to their wounds, a hospital official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera.

Six of the wounded were in a critical condition, the official said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Security officials inspect the site of the blast near Saeed’s residence [Rahat Dar/EPA]

LeT founder Saeed is blamed by the United States and India for being the “mastermind” behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed more than 160 people in a series of coordinated bombings and shootings across the Indian financial capital.

Saeed has denied any wrongdoing and currently runs the charitable wing of the LeT, called Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which has been designated by both Pakistan and the UN as a front for the armed group.

He was convicted and jailed last year in a series of terrorism financing cases lodged by the Pakistani government as it tightened financial laws and restrictions as part of its review by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) inter-governmental body.

A JuD spokesperson told the Reuters news agency that Saeed was in prison and therefore not in the residence that may have been targeted in Wednesday’s bombing.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Explainer: What is the Delta Plus variant of COVID-19? | Coronavirus pandemic News

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Scientists worry the mutation, coupled with other existing features of the Delta variant, could make it more transmissible.

India on Wednesday said it has found about 40 cases of the Delta coronavirus variant carrying a mutation that appears to make it more transmissible, and advised states to increase testing.

Here is what we know about the variant.

What is Delta Plus?

The variant, called Delta Plus in India, was first reported (PDF) in a Public Health England bulletin on June 11.

It is a sublineage of the Delta variant first detected in India and has acquired the spike protein mutation, called K417N, which is also found in the Beta variant first identified in South Africa.

Some scientists worry that the mutation, coupled with other existing features of the Delta variant, could make it more transmissible.

“The mutation K417N has been of interest as it is present in the Beta variant (B.1.351 lineage), which was reported to have immune evasion property,” India’s health ministry said in a statement.

Shahid Jameel, a top Indian virologist, said the K417N was known to reduce the effectiveness of a cocktail of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies.

Where all it has been found?

As of June 16 (PDF), at least 197 cases have been found in 11 countries – Britain (36), Canada (1), India (8), Japan (15), Nepal (3), Poland (9), Portugal (22), Russia (1), Switzerland (18), Turkey (1), the United States (83).

India said on Wednesday about 40 cases of the variant have been observed in the states of Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh, with “no significant increase in prevalence”. The earliest case in India is from a sample taken on April 5.

Britain said its first five cases were sequenced on April 26 and they were contacts of individuals who had travelled from, or transited through, Nepal and Turkey.

No deaths were reported among the United Kingdom and Indian cases.

What are the worries?

Studies are continuing in India and globally to test the effectiveness of vaccines against this mutation.

“WHO is tracking this variant as part of the Delta variant, as we are doing for other Variants of Concern with additional mutations,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement sent to Reuters news agency.

“For the moment, this variant does not seem to be common, currently accounting for only a small fraction of the Delta sequences … Delta and other circulating Variants of Concern remain a higher public health risk as they have demonstrated increases in transmission,” it said.

But India’s health ministry warned that regions where it has been found “may need to enhance their public health response by focusing on surveillance, enhanced testing, quick contact-tracing and priority vaccination”.

There are worries Delta Plus would inflict another wave of infections on India after it emerged from the world’s worst surge in cases only recently.

“The mutation itself may not lead to a third wave in India – that also depends on COVID-appropriate behaviour, but it could be one of the reasons,” said Tarun Bhatnagar, a scientist with the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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