Australian Police Move Against Pending Muslim Terror Attack

By Chelsea J. Carter

(CNN) — Australian authorities disrupted what they described as a pending attack “on a member of the public,” part of a sweeping counterterrorism operation on Thursday that came just days after the country raised its terror alert level to high.

At least one person was arrested in connection with “terrorism offenses” and another 15 were detained during more than two dozen searches in Sydney, acting Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin said at a news conference.

Authorities declined to detail the specific threat, citing an ongoing operation. The identity of the suspect in custody and the specific charges were expected to be released later in the day following a court appearance, they said.

However, Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters that authorities received intelligence that Islamic militants inside Australia had been urged to carry out a public execution or “demonstration killing.”

“The exhortations, quite direct exhortations, were coming from an Australian who is apparently quite senior in ISIL (Islamic State) to networks of support back in Australia to conduct demonstration killings here in this country,” he said.

Australia media reported that the suspects were planning to kidnap and behead a member of the public, before draping them in an ISIS flag.

More than 800 law enforcement officials fanned out across Sydney suburbs as part of a coordinated operation to serve 25 search warrants.

“Today’s operation reflects the reality of the threat we actually face,” Andrew Scipione, commissioner of New South Wales Police, said.

A second series of searches were carried out in Brisbane, Scipione said. Those searches were connected to the arrests earlier this month of two men in Brisbane accused of recruiting and financing foreign fighters to Syria.

“We are looking for linkages” between the Sydney operation and the one in Brisbane, Scipione said.

Australia last week raised its terror alert level to “high” for the first time since the national alert system was introduced in 2003. It’s the second-highest alert level.

According to the four-level system, a reading of “high” means a terrorist attack “is likely.”

The decision to raise the level was foreshadowed by the departing director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) last week.

David Irvine said the threat level had been building in Australia over the last year, due to the increasing influence of jihadists fighting for Islamic extremists ISIS in the Middle East who had recruited Australians to fight.

This week, the Australian government was one of 40 nations that agreed to contribute to the fight against ISIS, the terror group that calls itself the Islamic State.

The government has agreed to send military advisers to Iraq, and it will deploy a number of aircraft, including fighter jets, to the United Arab Emirates. It also will also help to stem the humanitarian crisis.

Australian combat troops will not participate in ground fighting, according to Abbott.

CNN’s Susanna Capelouto contributed to this report.

Assyrian International News Agency

Deaths in attack on Nigeria teachers’ college

Kano, Nigeria - Suspected Boko Haram fighters have stormed a teacher training college in the north of the country, killing at least 15 people in a shoot-out and explosions. 

Two suicide bombers detonated their explosives in a lecture hall packed with students around 2:00pm on Wednesday, witnesses told Al Jazeera.

Another group of attackers threw explosives at students and opened fire on those who attempted to escape Kano’s Federal College of Education. 

“Shreds of human flesh and gory splash of blood dot the surroundings. The grotesque remains of the suicide bomber still haunt me,” said Ibrahim Mohammed, a lecturer who locked himself up in his office to escape the attack. 

Though no group claimed immediate responsibility, the carnage bore the hallmarks of previous attacks carried out by the Boko Haram, an armed group that aims to carve out a caliphate in Nigeria’s north and weed out elements of Western influence. 

“The gunmen first killed a security guard at the gates of the college’s new extension and they rushed in shooting everyone on sight,” said Ibrahim Yakubu, a survivor.

‘Throwing bombs’

Speaking to reporters at the scene, Police Commissioner Adenerele Shinaba said the attackers had been approached by police who were suspicious of their movements, “only for them to open fire around the school, resulting in them gaining entry to the premises and starting to throw bombs”.

I ran, I crawled and walked for a long distance to get out of the school building. No one knew where they were and how many were they. It was hell. Everyone was running.

Female teacher

Security officials blamed Boko Haram for the attack and said at least 34 people were injured.

Witnesses said the attackers used the chaos after the blast to kill terrified people looking for an escape. 

A lecturer who declined to be named said some of the gunmen went around the offices at the college’s School of Arts and Social Sciences shooting anyone in sight.

“As I speak to you, we are still trying to locate a colleague who I saw rushing towards his office as I latched my door,” he said. 

A female teacher said she narrowly escaped the blast, which occurred as she was heading towards the spot where it hit.

“It was a miracle,” she said. “I called a friend and told her I would meet her on my way out. On my way to the car I stopped to talk to some colleagues. Then suddenly there were gun shots and a loud bang,” she recalled.

“I ran, I crawled and walked for a long distance to get out of the school building. No one knew where [the attackers] were and how many were they. It was hell. Everyone was running.”

Boko Haram in the local language of Hausa means “Western education is forbidden”.

In one of his many video appearances, the group’s self-declared leader, Abubakar Shekau, angrily thundered; “I hate university,” in reference to Western-styled schools.

Bloody attacks

The group has carried out a series of attacks on schools and symbols of modernity since it launched its insurgency in 2009.

Inside Story: Taking on Africa’s armed groups

In April, Boko Haram fighters attacked a girls’ boarding school in the remote northeast village of Chibok, abducting more than 200 students. At least 219 of the girls are still in the hands of the group.

Wednesday’s attack was the fourth on major educational institutions in Kano, the most important northern city. In April 2012, Boko Haram gunmen attacked a church service at the city’s Bayero University, killing more than 20 students and professors in attendance.

In June of that year, a car bomb was detonated in the city’s School of Hygiene as students were registering for the college. 

Nigeria is entangled in an intractable fight to contain the Boko Haram insurgency that has claimed more than 2,000 lives this year alone, according to Human Rights Watch. The group has recently stepped up attacks on towns and villages in the northeast, along the border with Cameroon, in an attempt to establish an Islamic state.



Islamic State Militants Attack Syria’s Qamishli, Casualties Reported

Damage of a residential building in Qamishli caused by IS-led attack with mortar fire on Sunday, September 14, 2014.Qamishli, Syria — On Sunday, Islamic State’s (IS/ISIL) militants fighters launched an intense attack with mortar shells against the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli (Qamishlo), in northeastern Syria.

IS militants launched mortar fire against several neighbourhoods in the city from their strongholds in the town of Tel Hamis, south of Qamishli.

Dozens of casualties among civilians were reported.

Meanwhile, military forces of the Syrian regime (based in Qamishli Internaional Airport) counter-attacked IS-held Tel Hamis by use of heavy artillery.

Speaking to ARA news in Qamishli, Kurdish activist Ahmed Suleiman said that at least two civilians were killed and dozens of others were injured as mortar shells launched by IS extremists hit several neighbourhoods in the city.

“IS terrorists targeted the neighbourhoods of al-Zaytouniya, al-Hilaliya, al-Ashuriya and the city center of Qamishli,” Suleiman said. “The IS-led attacks started in the afternoon and continued until the evening on Sunday.”

A 9-year-old boy was killed in al-Zaytouniyah, and a 22-year-old girl was reported dead in al-Shuriya in Qamishli on Sunday.

According to local sources, there were critical cases among the injured, who were transferred to several hospitals in the city, including Qamishli National Hospital.

Noteworthy, militant fighters of IS have been in control for months in the southern countryside of Qamishli, mainly in the towns of Tel Hamis and Tel Brak.

Reporting by Dilshad Mohammed.

Assyrian International News Agency

Three Pakistani Soldiers Killed In Rocket Attack

Three Pakistani soldiers were killed when suspected Islamist militants fired rockets at their post in the country’s northwestern tribal region.

Officials said at least two soldiers were also injured in the shelling, which occurred in the early morning on September 14 in the Spinwam area of North Waziristan, near the Afghan border.

The incident occurred in an area where the military has been battling Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants since mid-June.

The Pakistani Army is trying to drive out Islamist militants from North Waziristan and said last week it had killed more than 1,000 insurgents in a three-month campaingn.

It added that 82 soldiers had also died in the fighting.

The numbers could not be independently confirmed.

Based on reporting by dpa, NDTV,

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Uganda foils ‘terrorist’ attack

Ugandan security forces have claimed to have foiled an imminent al-Shabab ‘terror’ attack inside the capital Kampala, as the US has warned its citizens to seek shelter amid anti-terror operations.

“Joint security agencies in Uganda have foiled a terrorist attempt at one of its installations… we have made arrests,” police spokesman, Fred Enanga, told the AFP news agency.

The US embassy said on Saturday that Ugandan security forces discovered an “al-Shabab terrorist cell,” planning an “imminent attack.”

“At this point we are not aware of specific targets, and the Ugandan authorities have increased security at key sites, including Entebbe international airport,” the embassy said in a statement.

“All US citizens are advised to stay at home or proceed to a safe location. Shelter-in-place and await further guidance,” it added.

On Monday, the US embassy warned of possible revenge attacks by Somalia’s al-Qaeda linked al-Shabab fighters, after a US airstrike killed the group’s leader, Ahmed Godane. 

Under Godane’s leadership, al-Shabab established a foothold in most parts of Somalia and carried out attacks in Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti.

The US has said possible targets for attacks “could include hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, shopping malls, diplomatic missions, transportation hubs, religious institutions, government offices, or public transportation”.

During the 2010 World Cup final, twin bombings in Kampala killed 76 people after explosions ripped through two busy restaurants.

Al-Shabab claimed reponsibility for the blasts, citing Uganda’s decision to sent troops to Somalia as part of an African Union force.



Three Sentenced To Death, One Gets Life In China Train Station Attack

A court in China has sentenced three people to death and one to life in prison for a deadly stabbing attack at a railway station earlier this year.

Assailants armed wih knives ran through a crowded railway station in the southwestern city of Kunming on March 1, killing 31 people and wounding more than 140 others.

The government blamed the attack on separatists from the northwestern province of Xinjiang, the traditional home of China’s Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority.

The names of the defendants indicated they were probably Uyghurs.

China state CCTV channel said a court in Kunming handed down the sentences on September 12.

Three defendants had been charged with organizing and leading a terrorist group and murder, while the fourth one was charged with membership in a terrorist group and murder.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Syria rebel leader killed in bomb attack

The leader of one of Syria’s most powerful rebel groups has been killed along with dozens of other commanders in a bomb attack on a high-level meeting in Idlib province.

Hassan Abboud, the head of the Ahrar al-Sham brigade, was among up to 45 people killed on Tuesday at the meeting in an underground bunker near an ammunition dump outside Ram Hamdan.

The Idlib meeting brought together Ahrar and a number of other brigades fighting as the Islamic Front alliance, such as Ahrar, Abdallah Azzam and the Iman brigades, to discuss a strategy to fight the Islamic State.

Activists named others killed in the attack: Abu Yazan al-Shami, a member of the Ahrar’s shura council, military field commanders Abu Talha al-Askari and Abu Yousuf Binnish, and Abu al-Zubeir, the head of the Iman brigade.

Abu al-Mustafa al-Ambsi, a member of the political bureau of Ahrar, told Al Jazeera that the group was investigating the attack.

“There is a possibility that the meeting was infiltrated and an explosion happened first in the bunker,” he said. “Maybe someone planted a device inside because the bunker is at a secret location”.  

He said that killing of such an elite group “will only make us more resilient to fight and continue the fight until we liberate our homeland”.  

It is not known who staged the attack but Islamic State sympathisers hailed the death of Abboud on social media.

Another of Ahrar’s leaders, Abu Khaled al-Souri, a close associate with al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, was killed by the Islamic State earlier this year.

That assassination caused the schism that pitted the Islamic State group against other rebel factions in Syria.

Ahrar has about 20,000 fighters and is the main force in the Islamic Front alliance, which was formed earlier this year to oppose the Islamic State group. 

Ahrar advocates for a state run on Islamic principles, which protects the rights of women and religious and ethnic minorities, and disagrees with the approach of the Islamic State group.

In an interview with Al Jazeera in December 2013, Abboud said he would fight for his rights and dismissed talks in UN-brokered Geneva between the Syrian government and the exiled rebel umbrella Syrian National Coalition

“We see Geneva as a tool of manipulation – to derail the Syrian revolution away from its goals and objectives … whatever outcome the conference may yield, will be binding on the Syrian National Coalition only.

“For us, we will continue to fight for our revolution until we restore our rights.”

However, the rise of the Islamic State after the Geneva talks gave the civil war a new dimension, with Ahrar fighting not only the government but other rebel groups.



Death penalty for Afghans in gang-rape attack

An Afghan judge has sentenced seven men to death for the gang-rape of four women in a case that has sparked nationwide outrage, with angry protests outside the court and proceedings broadcast live on television.

The men were all found guilty on Sunday of kidnapping and attacking the female members of a group that was driving into Kabul, the capital, from a wedding.

In a trial that lasted only a few hours, the death sentences were technically handed down for the crime of armed robbery.

President Hamid Karzai had earlier called for the men to be hanged.

The court heard the men, wearing police uniforms and armed with guns, had stopped a convoy of cars in the early hours of August 23.

They dragged the four women out of the vehicles, robbed them, beat them up and then raped them. One of the victims was reported to be pregnant.

“We went to Paghman with our families. On the way back, they took us, one of them put his gun on my head, the other one took all our jewellery, and the rest started what you already know,” one victim told the court.

Death calls

As noisy demonstrators outside the court demanded the death penalty, applause erupted inside after Kabul police chief Zahir Zahir also called for the men to be hanged.

“We want them to be hanged in public, so that it will be a lesson for others,” he said. “We arrested them with police uniforms. They confessed to their crime within two hours of their arrest.”

RELATED: Afghan women face increasing abuse

The judge said the seven had the right to appeal against their sentences.

Al Jazeera’s Jennifer Glasse, reporting from Kabul, said: “It [Afghanistan] is such a conservative society. Normally any kind of cases like this are kept very quiet. It was a local hospital that notified the police.

“The men do have the right to appeal. But the public opinion is, very much against them.

“Demonstrations across four provinces in the last couple of days have called for swift and open justice in this case that has outraged Afghans.

“Three other men are at still large and police is promising to bring them to trial as well.”



US kills six in attack on al-Shabab leaders

At least six people were killed in a US drone attack on a convoy believed to be carrying senior al-Shabab leaders in Somalia.

Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Adow, reporting from Mogadishu on Tuesday, said details of the attack near the coastal town of Barawe on Monday night remained unclear but that the armed group did confirm they had come under attack.

He said reports suggested that upto 10 missles had been dropped on the convoy carrying senior leaders.

“They deny that their leader, Abu Zubeyr, whose real name is Ahmed Abdi Godane, was in the convoy, though they have confirmed that their convoy did come under attack,” our correspondent said. 

The AP news agency reported on Tuesday that six fighters had been killed in the attack on two vehicles heading towards the coastal town of Barawe, al-Shabab’s main base. 

The Reuters news agency quoted an unnamed US official as saying the government did not know if Godane was dead – “but he was the target.”

The US military said it was assessing the results of its attack.

The attack comes days after African Union troops and government forces launched “Operation Indian Ocean”, a major offensive aimed at seizing key ports from the rebels and cutting off key sources of revenue.



Deadly knife attack at China school

A man stabbed three children and a teacher to death and wounded several others in a rampage at a Chinese primary school that refused to enrol his daughter, state media said.

The attacker killed himself by jumping from the building following Monday’s carnage at a school in Shiyan in the central province of Hubei, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Five other students have been hospitalised, one of them seriously injured, Xinhua said.

A female teacher, surnamed Liu, was stabbed in the chest and stomach and died of her injuries hours later, Xinhua said.
The attacker, named as 43-year-old Chen Yanfu, “jumped to death from the fifth floor after he was tackled by a teacher”, according to Xinhua.

“The school’s headmaster said Chen did not say a word after entering classrooms, just pulled out a knife and started stabbing anyone within reach,” the news agency reported.

Chen was “allegedly upset that his daughter was not allowed to register at the school”, Xinhua added.

Monday was the first day of the new school year in many parts of China.

Xinhua said Chen had apparently been able to enter the school unquestioned, with no security checks on visitors in place that day.

“Security at many schools has been tightened after a spate of attacks on children in recent years,” the agency added.

They include five incidents in 2010 that killed 17 people — 15 of them children — and wounded more than 80.

Last March a man killed two relatives and then slashed 11 people, including six children, outside a school in China’s commercial hub Shanghai.

Earlier this summer police in Qianjiang city killed a suspect who was attempting to take over a primary school, state media said.



Ukraine Says Naval Ship In Flames After Attack By Rebels

A Ukrainian naval vessel was in flames in the Azov Sea after being attacked by artillery from pro-Russian separatists along the shore.

Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said an emergency operation is under way to help rescue crew members.

Lysenko said the vessel is a naval cutter but it is not known how many people were onboard.

Pro-Russian insurgents claimed responsibility for the attack on social media websites.

Igor Strelkov, a former separatist military commander, said on VKontakte that the separatists have “dealt the enemy their first naval defeat.”

Rebels backed by Russian forces seized the Ukrainian town of Novoazovsk and nearby territory last week in a major assault that led to gains in many parts of eastern Ukraine.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP 

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Syrian rebels attack UN peacekeepers in Golan

Syrian rebels holding dozens of Fijian UN peacekeepers hostage have attacked Filipino troops in the Golan Heights, Philippine officials said.

Philippine peacekeepers at one UN encampment were attacked, but those at another were “extricated,” Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told reporters in a series of text messages, adding that the attack started early on Saturday Syrian time.

Philippine military spokesman Ramon Zagala told reporters, “there is an ongoing firefight, but all Filipinos are safe.”

There were 40 Filipino troops in the encampment that came under attack, and 35 in the second, according to the Philippine military.

The Syrian rebels seized 44 Fijian peacekeepers on Thursday.

The rebels then demanded that the 75 Filipinos manning two separate UN encampments 4 km apart surrender their weapons, but they refused.

The situation of the peacekeepers, whose mission monitors a 1974 disengagement accord between Syria and Israel, remains “very, very fluid,” the UN secretary-general’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters on Friday at the UN headquarters in New York.

The UN said in a statement that it had received assurances from credible sources that the Fijian peacekeepers “are safe and in good health.”

The statement added that they had been informed “the intention behind holding the peacekeepers was to remove them from an active battlefield to a safe area for their own protection.”

The UN mission, known as UNDOF, has 1,223 troops from six countries: Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines.

But the Philippine government said last week that it would bring home its 331 peacekeeping forces from the Golan Heights after their tour of duty ends in October, amid deteriorating security in the area.

Various Syrian rebel groups have been engaged in intense fighting with the Syrian military in and near the Golan Heights.



Afghan Attack Kills Six

A suicide bomber has targeted an intelligence office in eastern Afghanistan, killing six people and wounding at least 40.

A spokesman for the governor of Nangahar Province said a truck packed with explosives had blown up at the gate of the Jalalabad office of the National Directorate of Security in the eastern city of Jalalabad early on August 30.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

The violence comes amid a political deadlock with rival presidential candidates have been unable to resolve months-long disputes over an election meant to mark the first democratic transfer of power in Afghan history.

Most foreign combat troops are due to leave by the end of the year but the deadlock over the presidential election has further delayed the signing a security pact with the United States governing how many troops would remain.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Britain Warns Terrorist Attack ‘Highly Likely’ Out Of Syria or Iraq

British Home Secretary Theresa May said on August 29 that the country’s terrorist threat risk level has been raised to “severe” in response to possible attacks being planned in Syria and Iraq.

May said the move means that a terrorist attack against Britain is “highly likely.”

But she said “there is no intelligence to suggest that an attack is imminent.”

The threat level is now the second highest level out of five possible categories and the highest in Britain since July 2011.

The beheading in Syria of kidnapped U.S. journalist James Foley by a suspected British national has prompted demands for extra security measures against Britons who travel to the Middle East to join militant groups.

It also has raised fears that Britons who’ve fought for Islamists in Syria or Iraq could return to Britain and carry out attacks.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Former CIA Chief: Matter of Time Before ISIS Tries to Attack West

(CNN) — An ISIS attack against the West is a question of timing — “not of inevitably, not of intent,” according to the former head of the CIA, retired Gen. Michael Hayden

Speaking to CNN’s Jim Sciutto on “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” Hayden said he expects ISIS to attempt an attack on targets in the United States or Europe.

“ISIS is a very powerful local organization, and probably a reasonably powerful regional terrorist organization,” Hayden said. “But it’s one that has global ambitions — and it has the tools.”

There’s no clear consensus inside the intelligence community as to whether ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State, is currently capable of striking the West.

That debate came to the forefront last week after the Sunni militant group beheaded American journalist James Foley in retaliation for the airstrikes — an act that Michael Morell, the former deputy director of the CIA, called the group’s “first terrorist attack against the United States,” in an interview with CBS.

“It’s expressed the intent,” Hayden said. “There’s no way more powerful way to express their street credentials among the jihadist community than a successful attack against the West.”

The U.S. military has conducted targeted airstrikes in order to stop ISIS’s progress in the region. The Obama administration initially said the strikes were carried out in order to protect U.S. personnel at the consulate in Irbil, Iraq, and prevent the genocide of the Yazidi people, a religious minority in the country.

That mission has appeared to have been broadened — strikes continued to hit ISIS targets near Irbil and the Mosul Dam on Sunday, U.S. Central Command said in a news release. The majority of the strikes have been in support of Iraqi forces near the dam, which briefly fell under ISIS control.

Hayden said that American airstrikes inside Syria, in addition to those being conducted in Iraq, would make a difference in the fight against ISIS. Airstrikes in Iraq come at the request of that government; Syria, however, is in the midst of a civil war in which almost 200,000 people have been killed. The United States has called for its President, Bashar al-Assad, to step down.

“It’s not just about defense; it’s not just about keeping the right people off of aircraft,” Hayden said. “It’s about offense. It’s about disabling ISIS. It’s about making them more worried, more consumed with protecting their own survivability rather than yours or mine.”

Assyrian International News Agency

Unidentified jets attack targets in Tripoli

Unidentified war planes have attacked targets in Libyan capital hours after fighters from the city of Misrata said they had seized the main airport from a rival fighter brigade.

Reuters news agency reported that Tripoli residents heard jets followed by explosions at dawn but no more details were immediately available.

Meanwhile, Egypt has denied taking any part in airstrikes on Libyan fighter positions in Tripoli after the armed group that captured the airport accused the country for involvement in the recent attacks.

“Egypt categorically denies press reports that Egyptian warplanes bombarded positions held by armed Islamist militias in the Libyan capital,” a foreign ministry said in a statement.

Libyan fighters from Mistrata have charged that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates were behind a raid around Tripoli airport on Friday night that reportedly killed 13 people.

Renegade general 

In recent weeks Libya has seen the worst fighting since the NATO-backed campaign to oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Renegade general Khalifa Haftar has declared war on armed groups, which have become a cause of growing anarchy in the oil-rich country.

Inside Story discusses the current crisis in Libya and the country’s future

His forces claimed responsibility for air raids on Tripoli on Saturday and last Monday, targeting a group called Operation Dawn.

However, this group, consisting mainly of fighters from Misrata, said on Saturday that it had captured Tripoli’s main airport from a rival faction from Zintan in western Libya.

In the campaign to overthrow Gaddafi, fighters from Zintan and Misrata were comrades. But they later fell out and this year have turned parts of Tripoli into a battlefield.

Libya’s neighbours and Western powers worry the country will turn into a failed state as the weak government is unable to control armed factions.

The violence has prompted the United Nations and foreign embassies in Libya to evacuate their staff and citizens, and foreign airlines largely stopped flying to Libya.



Unidentified jets attack targets in Tripoli

Unidentified war planes have attacked targets in Libyan capital hours after fighters from the city of Misrata said they had seized the main airport from a rival fighter brigade.

Reuters news agency reported that Tripoli residents heard jets followed by explosions at dawn but no more details were immediately available.

Meanwhile, Egypt has denied taking any part in airstrikes on Libyan fighter positions in Tripoli after the armed group that captured the airport accused the country for involvement in the recent attacks.

“Egypt categorically denies press reports that Egyptian warplanes bombarded positions held by armed Islamist militias in the Libyan capital,” a foreign ministry said in a statement.

Libyan fighters from Mistrata have charged that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates were behind a raid around Tripoli airport on Friday night that reportedly killed 13 people.

Renegade general 

In recent weeks Libya has seen the worst fighting since the NATO-backed campaign to oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Renegade general Khalifa Haftar has declared war on armed groups, which have become a cause of growing anarchy in the oil-rich country.

Inside Story discusses the current crisis in Libya and the country’s future

His forces claimed responsibility for air raids on Tripoli on Saturday and last Monday, targeting a group called Operation Dawn.

However, this group, consisting mainly of fighters from Misrata, said on Saturday that it had captured Tripoli’s main airport from a rival faction from Zintan in western Libya.

In the campaign to overthrow Gaddafi, fighters from Zintan and Misrata were comrades. But they later fell out and this year have turned parts of Tripoli into a battlefield.

Libya’s neighbours and Western powers worry the country will turn into a failed state as the weak government is unable to control armed factions.

The violence has prompted the United Nations and foreign embassies in Libya to evacuate their staff and citizens, and foreign airlines largely stopped flying to Libya.



Bombings Kill 30 in Iraq After Sunni Mosque Attack

(AP) — Bombings in Baghdad and the northern city of Kirkuk killed at least 30 people in Iraq on Saturday as the government investigated a deadly attack on a Sunni mosque the day before that has heightened sectarian tensions amid a fragile political transition.

In oil-rich Kirkuk, long disputed by Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government, three bombs went off in a crowded commercial district, killing 19 people and wounding another 112, Kirkuk deputy police chief Tarhan Abdel-Rahman said.

One witness said he heard “an explosion between the cars, and then we started carrying out the dead bodies from there while people were burning inside the shops and cars.” The witness asked not to be named for fear of retribution.

In Baghdad, a suicide bomber had earlier driven an explosives-laden car into the gate of the intelligence headquarters in Karrada district, killing six civilians and five security personnel, a police officer said. He said 24 other people were wounded.

A medical official confirmed causality figures. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to brief the media.

The attacks came after parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri said that a committee of security officials and lawmakers were probing Friday’s attack against a village mosque in Diyala province, northeast of the capital, which killed more than 60 people. The results of the investigation are expected in two days’ time.

It remained unclear whether the attack in the village of Imam Wais was carried out by Shiite militiamen or insurgents from the Islamic State group who have been advancing into mixed Sunni-Shiite areas in Diyala and have been known to kill fellow Sunni Muslims who refuse to submit to their harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

Since early this year, Iraq has faced an onslaught by the Islamic State extremist group and allied Sunni militants, who have seized large areas in the country’s west and north. The group took over Iraq’s second-largest city Mosul in June, and has since declared an Islamic state, or caliphate, in territory under its control in both Iraq and neighboring Syria.

Local security officials in Diyala said Friday’s attack began with a suicide bombing near the mosque entrance. Gunmen then stormed the building and opened fire on worshippers. At least 64 people were killed, including four Shiite militiamen who stumbled upon bombs planted by the militants as they rushed to the scene with security forces.

Sunni lawmakers offered a different account, saying Shiite militiamen had launched a reprisal attack on the mosque after their convoy was bombed.

The attack led two major Sunni parliamentary blocs to pull out of talks on forming a new government. The move creates a major hurdle for Shiite prime minister-designate Haider al-Abadi as he struggles to reach out to Sunnis to form a government by Sept. 10 that can confront the Islamic State extremists.

In a press conference, al-Jabouri did not say who might have been behind the attack, saying only that such violence was “carried out by the same hands (of those) who want to derail the process of building the government.”

Al-Jabouri heads one of the blocs that suspended talks, but he declined to comment on the move at the press conference, saying he was there in his capacity as parliament speaker. Al-Abadi issued a statement late Saturday calling upon all political blocs to submit their nominations for ministerial positions in the new government.

Imam Wais village is located about 75 miles (120 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad in the ethnically and religiously mixed Diyala province, which saw heavy fighting at the height of Iraq’s sectarian conflict in 2006 and 2007.

Firat al-Tamimi, a Diyala lawmaker, said there are conflicting accounts surrounding Friday’s events. He confirmed, however, that there was a bombing near the mosque prior to the assault on worshippers.

The leader of one of the country’s largest Shiite militias on Saturday denied any role in the attack.

“What happened yesterday is a crime that we cannot turn a blind eye to,” said Qais al-Khazali of the Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, which has been accused of attacks on Sunnis in the past.

Al-Khazali described the killing as “barbaric,” adding: “It is something we do not accept and we categorically condemn.”

Iraqi President Fouad Massoum, a Kurd, condemned Friday’s attack and appealed “to all for self-restraint and to act wisely.” He promised the incident would be “properly investigated and its perpetrators held to account.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he’s “deeply concerned about the impact such acts of sectarian violence will have on the already grave security situation and on the political process.” The European Union said the “heinous crime” should not stand in the way of government formation and urged Iraqis to unite against violence.

Also Saturday an explosion in the Kurdish capital, Irbil, injured three people, according to military officials who declined to be named because they are not authorized to speak with journalists. It remains unclear what caused the explosion, however one military official said it may have involved a sticky bomb.

Associated Press writer Murtada Faraj in Baghdad and Bram Janssen in Irbil contributed to this report.

Assyrian International News Agency

Iraq Investigating Deadly Sunni Mosque Attack

Iraqi officials say they are investigating an attack on a Sunni mosque that killed at least 68 people on August 22.

Parliament speaker Salim al-Jaburi, a Sunni, told the media in Baghdad that a committee of security officials and lawmakers would announce the results of the investigation by August 25.

Jaburi said the attack was carried out by “the same hands [of those] who want to derail the process of building the government.”

The massacre in the Imam Wais village near Baquba has raised sectarian tensions in Iraq and led two Sunni political blocs to withdraw from talks on forming a new government with Prime Minister-designate Haidar al-Abadi.

Police say gunmen broke into the mosque and opened fire on worshippers during Friday Prayers.

The village is in Diyala Province, some 120 kilometers northeast of Baghdad.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, dpa, and AP 

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Scores dead in attack on Sunni mosque in Iraq

At least 73 people have been killed after a Shia Muslim armed group opened fired inside an Iraqi Sunni mosque in the country’s eastern Diyala province, medical sources have said.

A security source said bodies had been arriving at the hospital in the city of Baquba in Diyala province on Friday.

Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf, reporting from Erbil, said that according to local sources, the attack could have been in retaliation for a roadside bomb attack at a recruitment event organised by the same militia.

Such sectarian violence could hurt efforts by Iraq’s new prime minister, moderate Shia Haider al-Abadi, to form a government that can unite Iraqis against the Islamic State group, the Sunni rebel group that has seized large parts of the country.

Attacks on mosques have in the past unleashed a deadly series of revenge killings and counter attacks in Iraq, where violence has returned to the levels of 2006-2007, the peak of a sectarian civil war.

In July, Shia armed groups executed 15 Sunni Muslims and then hung them from electricity poles in a public square in Baquba, police said.

Diyala police officials told the Reuters news agency they had provided Shia militias with names for hit lists so that suspected members of the Islamic State group could be tracked and executed.

Iraqi security forces killed more than 255 Sunni prisoners in July in apparent retaliation for killings of Shias by the Islamic State group, according to Human Rights Watch



At Least 32 Iraqis Dead In Attack On Sunni Mosque

Iraqi officials say at least 32 people have been killed in an attack on a Sunni mosque in northeastern Iraq.

Reuters quotes a security source as saying that the attack in the city of Baquba in Diyala Province was carried out by Shi’ite militiamen.

The attack comes as sectarian tensions soar in Iraq in the wake of sweeping territorial gains by the Sunni extremist group Islamic State in recent weeks.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

At Least Six Killed In Bomb Attack On Pakistani School Van

At least six people were killed when a roadside bomb struck a school van carrying teachers and their children in the northwest tribal region of Pakistan.

Two infant children, three female teachers, and one passerby were killed in the attack, which was reportedly set off by remote control.

Reports say the van was carrying the women and the women’s children to a local community school run by an aid group funded by international charities.

No group has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but Taliban militants often target educational institutions in the region.

The Bjur tribal region has been the scene of several military offensives against the Pakistani Taliban and foreign militants in recent years.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and dpa

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Kurdish Forces Launch Attack On IS Near Mosul Dam

Kurdish Peshmerga forces were reportedly “advancing” in an offensive to retake Iraq’s strategic Mosul dam from Islamic State (IS) fighters, as Sunni Arabs and Iraqi security forces fought the militant group west of Baghdad.

The dam on the Tigris river north of Mosul is Iraq’s largest dam and provides electricity and irrigation water for farming to much of the region.

Kawa Khatari, an official of the autonomous Kurdish region’s largest party, said “half of the Mosul dam area was retaken, the eastern part.”

An Iraqi security official confirmed that Kurdish forces have taken over parts of the dam.

General Tawfik Desty, a commander with the Kurdish forces at the dam, said Peshmerga forces controlled the eastern part of the dam and that fighting was ongoing.

Kurdish officials said the Peshmerga, backed by U.S. warplanes, also captured the villages of Telsqov and Risala, some 30 kilometers north of Mosul on August 17.

The officials said the Peshmerga’s progress was being hampered by roadside bombs planted by the retreating militants.

Meanwhile, in Anbar province, west of Baghdad, security forces backed by Sunni Arab tribal militia made gains west of the provincial capital, Ramadi.

More than two dozen Sunni tribes threw their weight behind a counteroffensive against the IS on August 15.

The IS has seized swaths of Iraq and Syria, displacing millions. 

More than 200,000 people, mostly Yazidi and Christian religious minorities, have fled their homes since the group’s latest advances.

In neighboring Syria, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad hit the Islamic State’s stronghold of Raqqa, in the eastern part of the country, with more than two dozen air strikes on August 17.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said at least 31 IS fighters were killed and dozens wounded in the air strikes that hit Raqqa city and the surrounding areas.

It said at least 26 strikes on August 17 hit Islamic State buildings, including the military court and bases in the city.

Assad has long claimed the uprising in Syria is a foreign-backed Islamist conspiracy, and his adversaries say he has allowed the IS group, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), to grow in order to back that claim.

Until recently, Assad’s regime held off from targeting the IS, thus allowing it to thrive and also weaken less hardline opposition groups that are backed by the West.

But this month, IS militants have made gains in Syria, boosted by equipment seized in a lightning offensive in neighboring Iraq, prompting the Syrian army to become more agressive, using air strikes against the group.

Based on reporting by AFP, dpa, and BBC

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

At Least Eight Dead After Gunmen Attack Pakistani Air Bases

Gunman attacked two air bases in southwestern Pakistan, prompting a shoot-out with police.

Officials say they killed at least eight of the insurgents, who were reportedly armed with automatic weapons, grenades, and wearing suicide vests.

At least seven police were wounded in the attacks late on August 14.

Locals reported hearing explosions and gunfire at the Samungli air base used by the Pakistani Air Force, as well as at the Khalid Military Air Base in Balochistan’s capital of Quetta.

Balochistan, a massive region that borders both Afghanistan and Iran, is full of natural resources and has been the scene of a long-running separatist conflict that has killed thousands.

Pakistan has suffered several recent attacks on its airports.

In June, a Taliban attack killed 30 people at Karachi airport, and militants also fired at a plane in Peshawar.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Obama Must Attack ISIS in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain: Chaldean Patriarch

(AINA) — Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako issued a statement today on the situation of the Christians in North Iraq. The Patriarch expresses disappointment at President Obama for appearing to commit only to the protection of Arbel, saying “The position of the American president Obama only to give military assistance to protect Erbil is disappointing. The talks about dividing Iraq are threatening. The Americans are not up to a rapid solution to give hope specifically as they are not going to attack the ISIS in Mosul and in the Nineveh Plain.”

Here is the full statement:

Death and sickness are grabbing the children and elderly people among the thousands of refugee families spread over the Kurdistan Region who lost everything in the recent tragic developments while the ISIS Militants are still advancing and the humanitarian aid is insufficient.

There are seventy thousand displaced Christians in Ankawa along with the other minorities in this city that has a population of more than twenty-five thousand Christians. The families who found shelter inside the churches or schools are in a rather good condition while those who are still sleeping in the streets and public parks are in a deplorable situation…

In Dohuk, the number of Christian refugees’ amount to more than 60.000 and their situation is worse than those in Erbil. There are also families who found shelters in Kirkuk and Sulaymaniyah, as well as some have arrived as far as in the capital city of Baghdad.

While the humanitarian needs are escalating: housing, food, water, medicine and funds, the lack of international coordination is slowing and limiting the realization of an effective assistance to these thousands awaiting immediate support. The Churches are offering everything within their capacity.

To summarize the situation of the Christian villages around Mosul up to the borders of Kurdistan Region: the churches are deserted and desecrated; five bishops are out of their bishoprics, the priests and nuns left their missions and institutions leaving everything behind, the families have fled with their children abandoning everything else! The level of disaster is extreme.

The position of the American president Obama only to give military assistance to protect Erbil is disappointing. The talks about dividing Iraq are threatening. The Americans are not up to a rapid solution to give hope specifically as they are not going to attack the ISIS in Mosul and in the Nineveh Plain. The confirmation that this terrible situation will continue until the Iraqi Security Forces will fight along with Peshmerga against the ISIS militants is very depressing. The President of the Kurdistan Region said that the Kurdish troops are fighting with a terrorist State and not minor groups! While the country is under fire, the politicians in Baghdad are fighting for power.

At the end, perhaps, Mosul will not be liberated neither the villages in the Nineveh Plain. There is no strategy to dry up the sources of manpower and the resources of these Islamic terrorists. They control the oil town of Zumar and the oil fields of Ain Zalah and Batma along with the oil fields of Al-Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor in Syria. The Islamic extremist fighters are joining them from different countries around the world.

The choices of refugee families:

Migration: where and do they have the necessary documents and money? To stay: in the halls and in the refugee camps, waiting the summer to end and winter to come? Will the schools be reopened and will their children go to elementary schools, high schools or colleges? Will they be welcomed in the schools in Erbil, Duhok and Sulaymaniyah? What is the future of the properties and belongings, along with the jobs, of these thousands of innocent people forced to fee overnight from their dear villages? These are questions that should inflict pain in the conscience of every person and organization so that something should be done to save this people that have their history in this land from their beginnings.

Louis Raphael Sako
Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon
President of the Assembly of the Catholic Bishops in Iraq

Patriarch’s statement courtesy of Aid to the Church in Need.

Assyrian International News Agency

Suicide Attack Kills Four Civilians In Kabul

Afghan officials said four civilians were killed in a suicide bomb attack targeting a NATO convoy in the capital, Kabul, on August 10.

At least seven others were wounded in the blast. 

Police said the suicide car bomber targeted the convoy on a main road in western Kabul.

A spokesman for the Taliban said the militant group claimed responsibility for the attack.

Based on reporting by AFP and AP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Militant Attack From Afghanistan Kills Four In Pakistan

Officials say militants from Afghanistan stormed the house of a local anti-Taliban militia leader in northwest Pakistan, killing him and three members of his family.

The incident occurred late on August 8 in Tenai Dara village in Upper Dir district, around 250 kilometers north of Peshawar.

Police named the militia leader as Nazmin Khan.

Two other family members were wounded, including a woman who was in critical condition.

Pakistan began a military offensive in the northwest in the aftermath of a Taliban attack on the country’s busiest airport in Karachi that killed dozens.

More than 500 militants and 27 soldiers have been killed in the offensive so far, according to the military. The death toll for insurgents could not be independently confirmed.

Based on reporting by AFP and dpa

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Global Protests Against ISIS Attack on Christians

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Protests are ramping up around the world against Islamic extremists who have purged Iraqi Christians from lands they have inhabited for 2,000 years.

Demonstrations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have been held in England, Canada, Germany, France, Unites States, Sweden, Denmark and Australia since the militia began threatening Christians in Mosul to convert or be killed and blew up a tomb believed to be the burial place of the Biblical prophet Jonah last week. ISIS took control of Iraq’s second-largest city, where Christians have lived for the past 2,000 years, in June.

In many protests the demonstrators displayed the Arabic letter “N” for “Nasrani,” which means Christian in Arabic. With slogans such as “Save the Christians of Iraq” and “Stop ISIS!” the protests have also attracted many Arab and Kurdish Sunni and Shia Muslims, Yezidis, Faylis and other minorities showing solidarity with persecuted Christians.

“I’ve come here to show that we all stand together and say no to discrimination, regardless of religion and ethnicity,” Khalil Yassin, an Arab Sunni and leader of the Iraqi Cultural Centre in Copenhagen, told Rudaw.

“I show my support for my Christian brothers and condemn in the strongest terms ISIS’ threats and actions,” Mossa Rashid, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Denmark, said.

The protests began after Louis Raphael Sako, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Baghdad and the leader of Iraq’s biggest church, issued a plea for international support.

“The control exercised by the Islamist jihadists upon the city of Mosul, and their proclamation of it as an Islamic State, after several days of calm and expectant watching of events, has now come to reflect negatively upon the Christian population of the city and its environs,” Sako maintained.

Copenhagen Catholic Bishop Czeslaw Kozon said more western leaders need to denounce ISIS’ attack on Christians.

“Once again we see that persecution of Christians is not historical, but is happening right now,” he said. “It is worrying that so few are aware of what is happening and that there is very little press coverage.”

Most of those who fled Mosul in recent weeks are now in the Kurdistan Region. Mosul is the capital of Nineveh province, which was once home to around 60,000 Assyrians, Chaldeans and other Christians.

“We are grateful to anyone who provides assistance to Christians in need,” Kozon said.

There are about 4,000 Iraqi Christians in Denmark. Despite the distance, they are impacted by the violence in Mosul and elsewhere, said Marcus Sabri, the organizer of the demonstration in Copenhagen and a leader in the Iraqi Christian Mar Abba parish.

“These are inhumane acts against Christians in Iraq. That is our country, where we have always lived. These are our historic buildings, heritage and churches that are being destroyed by ISIS,” Sabri said.

Jens Juul Petersen, a Danish aid worker who works on Iraq, said Iraqi Christians are often wrongly viewed as “western lackeys … despite the fact that they are among the world’s oldest Christian communities.”

Christians in Iraq are splintered among different groups, aren’t closely tied to the Vatican and don’t have a unified stance that would help them lobby for western support. They also don’t have militias, making them more vulnerable to Islamic extremists, Petersen said.

Alan Pary, a poet originally from Sulaimaniya, is a self-described Chaldean-Kurdish-Christian living in Denmark. He also criticized silence of western leaders.

“It’s horrible that ISIS comes in and expels people from their homes. The west went into Iraq in 2003 to create freedom, but now there is terror and turmoil,” he said.

In Paris, where two senior ministers offered asylum to Iraq’s Christians last week, 100 members of the French parliament joined demonstrators against ISIS. In addition, protests took place in Washington, outside of the British Parliament in London, and in front of the United Nations building in the Kurdistan Region capital, Erbil.

In Australia, the National Council of Churches urged the government to pressure the UN Security Council to address the plight of Iraqi Christians. The council has donated $ 30,000 to the Christian refugee camps in Erbil.


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Afghan leader’s cousin killed in bomb attack

President Hamid Karzai’s powerful cousin has been killed in a suicide-bomb attack at his home near the southern province of Kandahar, officials says.

Hashmat Karzai was an election-campaign manager in Kandahar for Ashraf Ghani, one of the two presidential candidates involved in a dispute over fraud that threatens to push the country into a new spell of instability.

Hashmat Karzai, was killed by a man with explosives hidden inside his turban when visitors arrived to celebrate Eid on Tuesday, the holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“A suicide bomber disguised as a guest came to Hashmat Karzai’s house to greet him,” Dawa Khan Minapal, the Kandahar provincial governor’s spokesman, told AFP news agency.

“After he hugged Hashmat, he blew up his explosives and killed him.”

This is not the first time that President Karzai’s family members have been targeted. His brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, was killed in his home in the city of Kandahar by an unknown attacker seven years ago.

Fraud allegations

Ghani, a former finance minister, and his rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, say the vote was marred by fraud, and the UN has sent a team of observers to oversee an audit of the ballot.

The new president had been due to be sworn in next month.

Major delays could complicate plans for an agreement to keep about 10,000 US troops in the country after most troops leave at the end of 2014.

Ghani, a former World Bank official, condemned the killing of his adviser.

“[We] condemn this act, of the enemies of AFG, in the strongest terms,” Ghani said on Twitter.

No one else was killed and security agents were investigating, the governor’s office told Reuters.

The two candidates agreed to an audit of all the vote’s cast in a second round run-off after John Kerry, the US secretary of state, brokered a deal, but the process is moving slowly, bogged down by frequent disagreements.



Militant Attack On Iraqi Prisoner Bus Kills Dozens

Published 24 July 2014

An attack on a bus carrying convicts from a prison near Baghdad has left at least 60 dead. The bus was transporting prisoners from a military base in the town of Taji to Baghdad when it was first hit by roadside bombs. Iraqi officials said insurgents then attacked security forces with the convoy. The majority of those killed were prisoners. (Reuters)

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Attack on Iraq prisoner convoy kills dozens

At least 60 people have died in clashes after suicide bombers and fighters attacked a bus transferring convicts from a prison north of Baghdad, according to Iraqi police.

Security and medical officials said on Thursday that about 50 prisoners were among the dead, many of them burnt beyond recognition. A number of policemen also died.

“At least 60 people, prisoners and policemen, were killed in a suicide attack followed by several IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and shooting,” an Interior Ministry official told the AFP news agency.

It was not immediately clear who launched the assault, which targeted a security convoy escorting a bus that was transferring the 60 prisoners, many of them held on terrorism charges, from the main prison in Taji, roughly 25km north of Baghdad.

The attack took place at about 4am local time (0100 GMT), just hours before Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, was to hold talks with Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqi prime minister, in an effort to spur international mobilisation against self-declared armed groups operating in the country.

It came a year almost to the day after fighters attacked the same prison in Taji and another facility in Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, killing at least 20 members of Iraq’s security forces.

Officials said at the time that no inmates had escaped from Taji prison but 500 broke out of Abu Ghraib.



Gaza under heavy attack despite truce efforts

Israel has bombarded the southeast of Gaza, killing more than a dozen people and forcing residents to flee, as the death toll since the fighting began in Gaza rose to above 655 and diplomats tried to find a solution to the conflict.

Sources and witnesses told Al Jazeera that Israel had bombed the areas of Khuzaa, Bani Suhaila and Absan, near Khan Younis, killing at least 17 Palestinians and injured dozens, as it attacked Hamas fighters. 

Hundreds of people were seen fleeing their homes in eastern Khan Younis as the battle unfolded, flooding into the streets with what few belongings they could carry. Many had children in tow. 

“The airplanes and airstrikes are all around us,” said Aziza Msabah, a resident. “They are hitting the houses, which are collapsing upon us.”

Residents who fled Khuzaa, a rural area, said that families were trapped and Israeli snipers had taken up positions on top of buildings.

“Ambulances are having hard time to get to the wounded in Khuzaa since the fighting is still going on,” said Al Jazeera’s Nicole Johnston said, reporting from Gaza.

Witnesses told Al Jazeera that appeals to evacuate the wounded were not possible due to the ferocity of the Israeli shelling.

“Tank shells were landing on the roads out of the area,” she added, making it difficult for anyone to enter or leave.

The death toll in Gaza has now passed 650 in 16 days of Israeli attacks, which more than 4,000 people wounded. The number of Israelis who have died is 31 – 29 soldiers and two civilians. 

Gaza residents also said on Wednesday that Israel attacked the power station which provides electricity to half the population of Gaza. The attack means only 10 percent of Gaza has access to electricity.

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said that diplomats had made progress on negotiating a ceasefire, after meeting the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Ban Ki Moon, the UN secretary-general.

“We have certainly made some steps forward. There is still work to be done,” Kerry said shortly after flying into Israel.

“The UN is wholeheartedly in this effort to try to see if we can advance not just a ceasefire but a sustainable process of going forward, which is very important.”

He met Abbas in the West Bank and Ban in West Jerusalem. 

Al Jazeera’s James Bays in West Jerusalem said that Kerry was at the forefront of intense diplomatic traffic on the crisis, but both sides were still opposed on the terms of a ceasefire.

According to Bays, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, said that Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, wanted negotiations to include a deal on lifting Israel’s siege of the enclave. Israel controls ports, airspace and borders.

However, Israel has no interest in concessions on the blockade, he said. “They want an unconditional ceasefire, and then negotiations somewhere along the road,” Bays said.



Drive-by acid attack injures Pakistani women

Quetta - Four masked men on motorcycles have thrown acid on four women outside a shop in Pakistan’s southwestern city of Quetta.

The men used syringes to throw acid on the faces of the women as they left the jewelry shop in a busy market in the Sariab district on Monday, Imran Qureshi, police superintendent of Sariab, told Al Jazeera.

“The attackers managed to escape from the scene. Dozens of women were present in the market as they were busy Eid shopping,” Kureshi said.

The victims were shifted to Bolan Medical Complex, the only hospital in Balochistan that treats patients with burns.

One of the victims, a teenager, received burns of 11 percent.

“The women were burnt three, six, four and 11 percent and all burns are second degree which normally do not cause any scars on the body after treatment,” Dr Hidayatullah, who was treating the victims, told Al Jazeera.

Suspects unknown

The victims did not name any suspects.

“The victims in their statements said they had no enmity with anyone,” Qureshi said, adding that it appeared the teenager with the most severe injuries was the prime target.

“It is too early to say whether any religious fanatic group is behind the attack or the incident took place due to a family dispute,” he said.

Shopkeepers and passersby told police that “there were dozens of women present in the market but the culprits targeted specifically these four women”.

It was not the first time in Quetta that women have been attacked with acid. Four young female teachers were attacked in September, 2011.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack but the school where they taught closed for several weeks after receiving threatening letters. Police are yet to arrest any suspects.

Female workers in the outskirts of Quetta have in the past complained to police about receiving threatening phone calls and letters from extremist groups.



Tajik Probe Into Alleged Terrorist Attack Completed

Tajik officials have completed an investigation into an alleged plan to commit a terrorist act on TALCO, the largest aluminum plant in Central Asia.

Interior Ministry officials said the results of a probe into the case of seven men suspected of planning the attack at the plant in the western city of Tursunzade has been sent to the Supreme Court.

A trial for the detained suspects is expected to be announced in the coming days.

The Interior Ministry announced the arrest of the suspects in April.

An employee of the facility, who asked to remain anonymous, told RFE/RL that four of the suspects were TALCO employees.

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon personally controls the operations of the plant, which employs some 10,000 workers and is considered Tajikistan’s greatest industrial asset.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Security Forces Repel Taliban Attack On Kabul Airport

Published 17 July 2014

Afghan security forces engaged in a gun battle on July 17 with Taliban fighters holed up in a building near Kabul’s international airport. The insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades used the building to stage a predawn attack on the airport in one of the most audacious assaults on the facility in a year. Members of an elite police unit killed all four militants involved in the assault. (Reuters)

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Kabul Airport Under Militant Attack

Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry says insurgents have launched an attack on Kabul International Airport in the capital.

Explosions and bursts of gunfire were heard near the airport on July 17 and black smoke rose above the facility, which is used by civilians and the military.
The ministry said insurgents had opened fire with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades after seizing a building under construction at the airport.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said Afghan security forces have surrounded the area and have been engaged in clashes with the insurgents. No casualties have been reported so far.

The airport lies next to a sprawling military base run by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

On July 15, a car bomb detonated in a crowded market killed 43 people and wounded at least 74 in the eastern province of Paktika, close to Afghanistan’s porous border with Pakistan.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Afghanistan’s Kabul airport under attack

A rapid response force had been sent to Kabul International Airport after an explosion followed by bursts of gunfire were heard near the facility in the Afghan capital. 

Smoke was seen rising above the airport, which is used by civilians and the military. A car had also been set on fire not far from the scene.

A police source said a number of fighters had burst into a building just north of the airport and opened fire.

“Afghan security forces are dealing with it. More information will be released as soon as we get it,” said the
source, who asked not to be identified.

Jennifer Glasse, Al jazeera’s correspondent in Kabul, said: “We’ve heard at least two dozen explosions and a lot of gunfire. Fighter jets are circling the airport.

“There’s a civilian side and a military side to the airport that houses Afghan security forces and NATO forces, the attack it seems to be targeting that side.

“This attack calls security into question. If this many fighters can get into such a secure facility, and a secure area of the airport, it raises questions as to how so many can get through a heavily fortified building.

“There are high rise buildings being built around the airport and that seems to be what has made the airport vulnerable.”

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Planes diverted

NATO forces said they were aware of reports of an attack on the airport but could not give more details.

A Kabul airport official told the Reuters news agency all flights had been diverted to other cities.

In such circumstances, passenger planes are immediately diverted to other Afghan cities such as Mazar-i-Sharif in the north or Herat in the west.

The attack on the airport comes at a time of great uncertainty for Afghanistan as votes from the second round of a disputed presidential election are to be recounted.

The poll is meant to mark Afghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power.



Three NATO Troops Wounded In Afghan Attack

Authorities say three NATO troops have been wounded in a suicide car bombing targeting their convoy in eastern Afghanistan.

Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar Province, said the attack happened late on July 12 in the province’s Bhesoud district.

NATO says soldiers killed the attacker and there were no other fatalities.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

The violence comes during the Taliban’s annual spring offensive.

They are trying to undermine the Western-backed government as foreign combat troops prepare to withdraw by the end of the year.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Hakim denounces Zionist attack on Gaza Strip

Baghdad   -The Head of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, Ammar Al-Hakim, condemned the aggression waged by the Zionist entity on Gaza, calling on the international community to feel responsibility towards protecting the Palestinian people.

Hakim stated yesterday, Wednesday “The thing that encourages the Israeli occupation to assault the Palestinian people is the lack of unity and discord among the Arab and Muslims.”

Hakim criticized the Arab countries which do not cut their relations with the Zionist Entity despite the ongoing blatant aggression against the Palestinian people.


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Hakim denounces Zionist attack on Gaza Strip

Baghdad   -The Head of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, Ammar Al-Hakim, condemned the aggression waged by the Zionist entity on Gaza, calling on the international community to feel responsibility towards protecting the Palestinian people.

Hakim stated yesterday, Wednesday “The thing that encourages the Israeli occupation to assault the Palestinian people is the lack of unity and discord among the Arab and Muslims.”

Hakim criticized the Arab countries which do not cut their relations with the Zionist Entity despite the ongoing blatant aggression against the Palestinian people.


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Iraq’s Capital Prepares for ISIS Attack

BAGHDAD (CNN) – Baghdad is hunkered down for a fight. For now, the fighting has stayed out of the capital, but security forces know that will likely change.

As they’re bracing for battle, the weak links in their defense become evident.

Baghdad’s airport is about 1.5 miles away from the first outer perimeter of defense, with fighting positions set up all along it. The boundary they are using is natural; it’s the canal down below.

There are seven similar concentric lines of defense between there and the front line, about a 20 minute drive away, which is allegedly still being held by Shi’a militiamen that once fought the Americans.

Baghdad was eerily quiet last week, and everyone is on edge, anticipating spectacular bombings and sleeper cells emerging.

That is especially of concern close to Baghdad’s airport and the capital’s western edge.

The security forces are seeing a lot of activity at night, especially after 2 a.m., but they don’t know exactly what those cars are doing.

The activity is quite suspicious because of the hour, and this is one of the areas, because it is predominantly Sunni, that people are quite concerned about ISIS having sympathizers if not sleeper cells.

Shi’a Brig. Gen. Ali Abdul Razzak said he doesn’t want to turn it into a sectarian matter, but he says, “This area has safe havens. Wherever you see Sunni areas, you will have safe havens.”

Men with the Badr brigade – Shi’a Iraqis trained in Iran to fight Saddam Hussein’s regime joined U.S. forces as the U.S. invaded Iraq and then announced they would become a political movement.

Officially, at least, they are taking up arms for the first time in more than a decade, as Iraqi security forces desperately need reinforcement.

A house next to a cell phone tower is one of the locations where they have been seeing quite a bit of this suspicious activity at fairly odd hours, but they haven’t yet been able to secure the permission to go in and search it.

So they watch and wait, bracing themselves for battle.

Assyrian International News Agency

Extremists in Iraq Attack Shiite Shrine, Killing 6

BAGHDAD — Sunni extremists fired mortars into a shrine in Samarra that is sacred to Shiites late Monday, killing six people and damaging the shrine, according to a report on Iraqi state television.

Attacks on Samarra’s Askariya Shrine by Qaeda-related groups in 2006 set off a wave of sectarian violence throughout Iraq that took years to calm.

A report on the Iraqiya television network said four mortar shells were fired into the compound of the mosque, which was built in 944 and is considered one of the most important shrines in the Shiite world.

A security official in Samarra said only two mortar shells actually hit the mosque’s famous golden dome, and damage was slight. The other two landed in a courtyard, where many worshipers had gathered to celebrate the first day of Ramadan.

The dome was largely destroyed in 2006 by extremists who entered the shrine and set off explosives. It was later rebuilt.

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The Iraqi government has heavily reinforced the city of Samarra, about 80 miles north of Baghdad, to prevent insurgents with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria from carrying out such attacks on the shrine. It has so far prevented ISIS from entering Samarra or getting close to the shrine area.

ISIS has made no secret of its intention to foment a sectarian war in Iraq, as Al Qaeda did in 2006.

The attack was likely to arouse fears of retaliatory attacks in an atmosphere where Sunnis have already become victims of random, apparently sectarian killings in Baghdad and elsewhere, as a response to the advances by ISIS in Sunni parts of the country.

The shrine marks the place where Imam Ali al-Hadi, who is revered by Shiites, was buried in 868. Six years later, his son Hassan al-Askari was buried there as well.

Assyrian International News Agency

Poroshenko Ends Cease-Fire, Says ‘We Will Attack’

President Petro Poroshenko has said he will not renew a cease-fire and Ukrainian forces will go on the offensive against rebels in eastern Ukraine.

The cease-fire, which was part of his plan to end a pro-Russia insurgency in the east, expired late on June 30. Poroshenko had extended the cease-fire from the  initial seven days to 10 days.

A statement from Poroshenko on his website says the cease-fire is being halted and that “we will attack and we will free our country.”

The statement came after Poroshenko met with his security chiefs.

Boths sides have accused each other of breaking the cease-fire.  

A statement tweeted by the Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said 27 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed since the cease-fire began on June 20.

And Interfax-Ukraine news agency quoted pro-Russian militia saying Ukrainian forces had resumed shelling the city of Kramatorsk.

Poroshenko’s decision followed four-way talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande on June 30 before the deadline expired.

The office of French President Francois Hollande said Ukraine and Russia had agreed to work together to establish a bilateral cease-fire in eastern Ukraine.

But Poroshenko issued a statement after the talks ended saying the key conditions needed to extend the cease-fire had not been fulfilled.

Poroshenko said the cease-fire was part of a peace plan and was to be followed by an amnesty for fighters who had not committed serious crimes, and political concessions such as early local and regional elections,  and protection for speakers of Russian.

In the longer term, the plan would have provided for changes to the constitution to decentralize power to the regions.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Benghazi Attack Suspect Pleads Not Guilty

The Libyan militant charged in the Benghazi attacks has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy.

Ahmed Abu Khattala made his initial appearance in federal court in Washington on June 28.

A grand jury indictment says Abu Khattala took part in a conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists in the 2012 attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Abu Khattala was flown by a military helicopter from a Navy ship to Washington earlier on June 28.

He was captured in Libya by U.S. special forces two weeks ago.

The September 11, 2012, attack sparked controversy in the United States with Republicans accusing the Obama administration of misrepresenting the circumstances and of lax protection for diplomats.

Initially, the Obama administration claimed that the attack began as a spontaneous protest against the anti-Islam film, Innocence of Muslims.

Later, the White House said the attack was a premeditated assault by Islamic militants.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Ukraine troops killed in fresh attack

Three members of the Ukrainian military have been killed after pro-Russian separatists attacked their post near the eastern flashpoint city of Slovyansk with small arms and mortar fire, a military spokesman said.

The reported attack on the post manned by members of the government’s “anti-terrorist operation” took place on Saturday despite a government ceasefire, which was extended on Friday until Monday night. 

“As a result of the fighters shooting at the post near Slovyansk, three members of the Ukrainian forces were killed and a fourth was wounded,” a military spokesman, Oleksiy Dmitrashkovsky, told the Interfax news agency.

Hours after the attack, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said that pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk had released four of the group’s monitors held since the end of May.

Two groups of unarmed observers from the European security organisation, totalling eight international monitors and a Ukrainian translator, were captured at roadblocks three days apart in late May.

But the second team seized on May 29 in the neighbouring Luhansk province appeared to have been abducted by a different group and negotiations for their release are ongoing.

The latest violence in Slovyansk came a day after four soldiers were killed and five wounded as Ukraine’s military regained control of a checkpoint in the eastern region of Donetsk that had been earlier taken over by separatists.

Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, announced the extension on Friday night, partly at the urging of some European leaders, after returning to Kiev from an EU summit in Brussels where he signed an association agreement.

The ceasefire extension was announced in line with a deadline set by EU leaders for rebels to agree to disarm, return border checkpoints to Kiev authorities and free hostages, including the OSCEmonitors.

Poroshenko also called on Russia to close centres being used to recruit separatist volunteers on its side of the border.

The one-week truce had been due to expire on Friday at 7pm GMT, and will now expire at 7pm GMT on June 30, according to the presidential website. 



Benghazi consulate attack suspect lands in US

A Libyan man accused of leading the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi has arrived in the US and is due to face his first court appearance, US officials have said.

Ahmed Abu Khattalah faces criminal charges in the deaths of the US ambassador to Libya and three other Americans from the attack on September 11, 2012.

He was said to be in custody in Washington on Saturday after his capture by US special forces near Benghazi two weeks ago. He may face an initial court appearance on the same day.

Khattalah is accused of killing a person during an attack on a federal facility, a crime punishable by death; providing federal support to attackers resulting in death; and using a firearm in a crime of violence.

US authorities have said they are looking to identify and capture additional co-conspirators.

Khattalah acknowledged in January that he was present during the storming of the US mission in Benghazi.

He denied involvement in the attack, saying he was trying to organise a rescue of trapped people.

‘Directing fighters’

In the attack, gunmen fired rocket-propelled grenades and stormed the mission, with many waving the black banners of the armed group, Ansar al-Sharia.

The compound’s main building was set ablaze. Ambassador Chris Stevens suffocated to death inside and another American was shot dead. Later in the evening, gunmen attacked a safe house, killing two more Americans.

At the time, several witnesses said they saw Khattalah directing fighters at the site. There is no evidence that he was was involved in the later attack on the safe house.

Khattalah’s prosecution will be a test of the Obama administration’s commitment to put foreign attackers through the US criminal justice system rather than sent them to the US prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

His is just one of a few cases in which the administration has captured suspects overseas and interrogated before being brought to a US court to face charges.

Other similar cases include Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, who was arrested in Jordan in March 2013 and handed to US agents. A jury in New York convicted him in March of conspiring to kill Americans.



Iraqi Forces Launch Helicopter Attack On Tikrit

Iraqi officials say security forces have launched a helicopter-borne attack on the militant-held city of Tikrit.

The officials said Iraq Air Force helicopters landed inside the university stadium, leading to fierce clashes with Islamist militants.

State-run Iraqiya TV said the army troops killed “dozens of terrorists inside Tikrit University” and were now in control of the facility. The claim could not be independently verified.

Sunni militants led by the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized Tikrit, the hometown of executed dictator Saddam Hussein, two days after the June 10 launch of their offensive into northern Iraq.

Since then, the militants have overrun large parts of northern and western Iraq.

AFP says the Tikrit operation is the first announced use of helicopters to transport troops directly into combat since the crisis began. 

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Al-Qaeda fighters attack Yemen airport

Al-Qaeda fighters have attacked an airport in Yemen and bombed the facility’s air control tower, according to Yemeni security officials.

The officials said the coordinated attack on the Sayoun airport in the southern province of Hadramawt started from three directions early on Thursday.

At around the same time, security officials said a suicide bomber drove his explosives-laden car into the entrance of an army base.

An army source told Al Jazeera that at least six soldiers and three civilians were killed in a series of attacks in the town, including two women killed at a dates factory.

The source said the airport was under control of the security forces.

The violence came just hours after security forces arrested a number of suspected fighters in the same town, known for a strong presence of al-Qaeda.



Thirteen shot dead after China bomb attack

Security forces in China have shot dead 13 people in the troubled Xinjiang region after they drove into a police building and set off an explosion, the AFP news agency reported, citing a regional government website.

“Today thugs crashed a car into the public security building of Kargilik county in Xinjiang’s Kashgar prefecture and set off an explosion. Police took decisive action and shot dead 13 thugs,” the official Tianshan web portal reported on Saturday, adding that three police were injured.

It was the latest in a series of attacks pointing to growing unrest in the sprawling region, where the native Muslim Uighur people want more autonomy from Beijing. Last month, a market bombing killed 43 people in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi.

In March, a knife assault at a railway station in the southern city of Kunming left 29 dead and 143 wounded.

Chinese authorities have blamed the attacks on “extremists” bent on overthrowing Beijing’s rule.

Andrew Leung, a China analyst from Hong Kong, told Al Jazeera that the situation in Xinjiang is turning “from bad to worse.”   

“The local residents feel marginalised because there is a huge influx of Han [Chinese],” he said.  

Exiled Uighur groups and human rights activists also said China’s own repressive policies in Xinjiang have provoked the unrest.

Officials in the region contacted by phone either said they were unclear about the situation or refused to comment.

Last Monday, China executed 13 people accused of terror attacks in Xinjiang.