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)

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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.



Three U.S. Soldiers Killed In Taliban Attack

Three U.S. soldiers and a military dog have been killed in Taliban attack in Afghanistan.

The NATO-led International Security Assstance Force (ISAF) said the attack had taken place in Helmand Province on June 20 and was caused by improvised explosive device.

Taliban militants later claimed responsibility for the attack.

The last major incident involving NATO troops was 10 days ago, when five U.S. soldiers were killed in an accidental “friendly fire” air strike in Zabul Province during clashes with insurgents.

ISAF will end its combat mission later this year, leaving the Afghan police and army to take on full responsibility for battling the resilient Taliban insurgency.

Based on reporting by dpa and AFP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Kenya coast attack suspects shot dead

Kenya’s security forces have shot dead five people suspected of involvement in attacks on the coast this week that left at least 65 people dead, the Interior Ministry said.

“Five suspected attackers shot dead while escaping, three AK-47 guns and several ammunitions recovered,” the Interior
Ministry said on Twitter on Thursday. He located the incident in Lamu County.

Somalia’s al-Shabab rebel group claimed responsibility for this week’s attacks that were 24 hours apart on the town of Mpeketoni and a nearby village.

President Uhuru Kenyatta dismissed the group’s claim and accused his political rivals of being behind the attacks, saying they wanted to stoke ethnic tensions.

The opposition swiftly denied the charge, which risks deepening political divisions.

A Kenyan army source, who asked not to be named, confirmed five suspects were killed in a forested area during a combined operation involving the army and other security forces.

Kenya has faced a spate of gun and grenade attacks in recent months. The killings in Mpeketoni were the worst since al-Shabab gunmen stormed into Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in September, leaving 67 people dead.

The government has faced mounting public anger at the rising insecurity and accusations it failed to do enough to protect

Protesters detained

In the main port city of Mombasa on Thursday, police fired teargas and rubber bullets to disperse a demonstration about
poor security. Eight people were arrested and charged with unlawful assembly, and later released on bail.

The protest was organised by 27 rights groups.

“We have not done anything wrong by holding peaceful demonstrations for the sake of our country and we will still
have them, until the government restores security in the country,” Phyllis Mwema, one of the organisers, told Reuters news agency.

Mwema said police had been properly notified of the protest, which had been organised to take place before the Mpeketoni attacks. Police said they were informed but had not given approval for fear it could be targeted by “criminals”.

Police intervened to prevent protesters from reaching regional administrative offices.

“We are trying to ensure that we don’t create situations that give evil-minded people an easy opportunity to execute
crime,” Mombasa County Commissioner Nelson Marwa said, explaining the decision not to approve the protest.



Suicide Bombers Attack NATO Outpost In Eastern Afghanistan

Afghan officials say three suicide bombers have attacked a NATO outpost in eastern Afghanistan, setting off a gun battle with police.

Police said the attackers struck on June 19 at Torkham in Nangarhar Province, a crossing point on the Pakistan border.

All three attackers were killed in a clash with security forces, but dozens of NATO fuel trucks were destroyed by explosions during the fighting.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid says his group is behind the attack.

Most NATO cargo shipments go through the Torkham crossing, toward Pakistan’s port city of Karachi.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Assyrians and Christians Under Attack in Iraq and Syria

An Iraqi security guard outside the Church of the Virgin Mary in the northern town of Bartala, east of the northern city of Mosul. Iraqi troops stayed in the town to protect local churches and the mainly Christian community (photo: Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images).With extremists battling for control of Iraq’s largest oilfield on Tuesday, upping the stakes in a burgeoning war against the central government in Baghdad, Iraq’s Christians once again find themselves at risk.

Over the past 10 days, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a fundamentalism jihadist group, has streamed across the Nineveh plains of northern Iraq from its bases in eastern Syria, capturing a line of towns and cities, including several with large Assyrian and Chaldean Christian populations.

Some 160 Christian families have fled Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, for Christian-inhabited towns and villages in northern Iraq over the past week, according to Associated Press.

Hundreds more have left seeking safety in the autonomous Kurdish region to the east. Mosul was home to about 130,000 Christians before the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq and following last week’s Isis takeover, is reported to be almost empty of Christian families.

Assyrians are one of the oldest indigenous communities in the region. Their roots in what is today northern Iraq and eastern Syria go back over 2,000 years, with the latter stages of that history increasingly marred by bloodshed.

During the dying days of the Ottoman Empire as the first World War unfolded, about 750,000 Assyrians were killed as part of the broader slaughter of Christian Armenians and Greeks in modern-day Syria, Iraq and Turkey.

Then in 1933, about 3,000 Assyrian Christians were killed by Iraqi soldiers and Kurds in the northern Iraqi town of Sumel, leading to mass migration across the border to Syria.

Hellish time

More recently, Christians in Iraq have experienced a hellish time. On Christmas Day last year, 37 people were killed in a series of car bomb attacks close to churches in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.

The wave of kidnappings, bombings and assassinations following the 2003 invasion saw many of the city’s Christians flee to northern Iraq where they have lived in relative safety, until now. As a result, Iraq’s Christian community is today thought to number just 40 per cent of its pre-2003 figure, and today, in the face of the Isis assault, is on the move again.

“Each day we went to bed in fear . . . In our own houses we knew no rest,” a Christian woman from Alqosh in northern Iraq told reporters, speaking of the threat from jihadists.

The danger to Christians in northern Iraq appears not only in the form of jihadists. With Isis viewed as likely to encounter difficulty in holding on to territory in the face of an impending fight-back from better-equipped government forces, a long-standing threat to the slivers of territory in northern Iraq inhabited by Christians has appeared.

Kurdish militias

According to the Assyrian International News Agency, a total of 14 Assyrian towns and villages in the north have in the past week fallen under the control of Kurdish militias.

Iraq’s Kurds have their own designs of expanding territorial control across the north, including to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk which Kurdish peshmerga control since late last week.

The peace and stability enjoyed in Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region in the north of the country and home to the country’s five million Kurds, has proved a rare bright spot in Iraq’s recent history.

“The Kurds control now most of the disputed territories,” said Wladimir Van Wilgenburg, a columnist with Al Monitor and an expert on Kurdish affairs. “They now almost have their national desired borders, only in Diyala [province] there is still a border with the Iraqi army, the rest of the 1,000km is with the Isis.”

Syrian threat In Isis-controlled eastern Syria, Christians have fared little better. Last March, the jihadist group announced Christians there must convert to Islam, pay a tax or face death. Churches have been damaged and crosses, paintings and statues burned in Raqqa, a city in Syria’s east. Several Syrian and foreign priests have been kidnapped and killed by jihadists in Syria over the past three years.

But Christians are preparing to fight back. Their militias today form an important cog in the Syrian regime’s fighting force in the shape of National Defence Forces — groups of civilians armed by the Syrian regime.

Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has called on civilians to take up arms and fight against Isis; reports say about 600 Christians in the town of Bartella, 20km from Isis-controlled Mosul, are defending their homes with machine guns and other light weapons.

With the US and other Western governments slow to become involved in another Iraq quagmire, the threat to Christians and other minorities is set to mount.

Assyrian International News Agency

Drone attack reported in Pakistan’s northwest

Pakistani intelligence officials say a US drone strike has killed at least five people in a rebel hideout in the northwestern tribal region near the Afghan border.

Two officials, who did not want to named, said the missiles had hit a vehicle and a compound in the town of Dandey Darpakhel in North Waziristan on Wednesday.

The strike was the third in the past two weeks as US missile strikes in Pakistan resumed after six months.

North Waziristan is home to a mix of local and foreign al-Qaeda-linked fighter groups, who also attack American and NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s military this week launched a long-awaited offensive in the region after the main airport in the commercial city of Karachi was attacked by the Pakistani Taliban.



US captures Benghazi attack key suspect

The United States has captured a key suspect linked to the deadly 2012 attack on an American consulate in Benghazi in a secret raid in Libya over the weekend, US President Barack Obama announced. 

“Since the deadly attacks on our facilities in Benghazi, I have made it a priority to find and bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of four brave Americans,” Obama said on Tuesday in announcing the capture of Abu Khatallah.

“The fact that (Khatallah) is now in US custody is a testament to the painstaking efforts of our military, law enforcement, and intelligence personnel. Because of their courage and professionalism, this individual will now face the full weight of the American justice system,” he said.

The US said that the Libyan government has been informed of the operation, but declined to say whether Libya was notified prior to the capture.

Rear Admiral John Kirby, US defence deparment spokesman, said there were no civilian casualties in the raid, which took place on Sunday, and the suspect was in US custody at a “secure location outside of Libya.”

After similar raids, the US has held suspects aboard naval ships before flying them to the US to face legal charges.

Kirby said all US troops and personnel taking part in the operation have “safely departed Libya.”

The US State Department identified Khattalah as a senior leader of Ansar al-Sharia, a Libyan armed group it brands a “terrorist” organisation responsible for many attacks and assassinations.

US authorities had filed charges against Khatallah and others over the 2012 Benghazi attacks, which killed four Americans, including the US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens.

The embassy deaths triggered a long-running investigation in the US, with the Republican opposition accusing Obama and then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of mishandling the security of the embassy.

A US Senate report also said that the US military was not positioned to aid the Americans in need, though the head of Africa Command had offered military security teams that Stevens had rejected weeks before the incident.

Al-Qaeda-linked armed groups were later blamed for the strikes, first when armed groups overran the temporary US mission on September 11, 2012, and later that same night, when armed fighters fired mortars at the nearby CIA annex where the Americans had taken shelter.



Al-Shabab claims deadly Kenya attack

The Somalia-based armed group al-Shabab has said it carried out a deadly attack on a town in Kenya in which 48 people were killed and several buildings burned down.

In a statement sent to Al Jazeera on Monday, the group said that the attacks would continue, adding that the Kenyan government was “fighting a losing war” and telling tourists to stay away.      

Analysis with Al Jazeera’s Hamza Mohamed

The group said they targeted the coastal town of Mpeketoni on Sunday because it was originally a Muslim area that was “invaded and occupied by Christian settlers.”

“The prospect of peace and stability in Kenyan will be but a distant mirage,” the statement said. “Brace yourself for the depredations of war and that which you have with your hands sown.”

Al Jazeera’s Rawyah Rageh, reporting from Mpeketoni on Monday, said that residents were “shocked” about how the attack lasted for hours, with the gunmen fleeing with minimal resistance.

Sunday’s attack in Kenya’s tourist hub was the biggest since the deadly Westgate Mall raid last September in the capital Nairobi.

Kenya’s Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku promised on Monday to pursue the attackers.

Attack on foreigners

Al Jazeera’s Rageh said the attack did not target foreigners in Kenya.

“Attacks frequently carried out by al-Shabab target foreigners, but the latest one targeted locals in a small town,” she said.

Kenya sent troops into Somalia in late 2011, after al-Shabab fighters carried out a series of raids on Kenyan soil. 

Al-Shabab, which has fought a seven-year campaign to impose its interpretation of Islamic law inside Somalia, has said it wants to take revenge for Kenya’s deployment of troops in the Horn of Africa nation.

“The Mpeketoni raid was carried out in response to Kenyan military’s continued invasion and occupation of our Muslim lands and the massacre of innocent Muslims in Somalia.”   

Kenya has experienced a drop in tourist arrivals in recent months following gun and grenade attacks blamed on al-Shabab or its sympathisers.

In May, explosions in Nairobi and the coastal city of Mombasa led the UK, US, France and Australia to issue warnings about travel to Kenya, and at least 400 tourists cut short their holidays and left hotels along the Indian Ocean coast.

Kenya called the alerts “unfriendly”, saying they would increase panic and play into the hands of those behind the assaults.



Hotels targeted in deadly Kenya attack

At least 48 people have been killed after unidentified armed men attacked Mpeketoni, a coastal town in Kenya’s Lamu county, and set fire to three hotels and a police station, reports say.

The area is in the heart of the East African country’s tourism industry.

The attackers targeted several buildings on Sunday, including hotels, a bank and a police station, David Kimaiyo, head of Kenyan police forces, was quoted by AP news agency as saying.

“I can confirm that 14 people were killed in the Mpeketoni attack [last] night,” Zipporah Mboroki, Kenyan police spokeswoman, told Reuters news agency by telephone.

“Attackers hijacked a van from Witu town which they used for the attacks. They raided Mpeketoni police station first and opened fire,” Hamaton Mwaliko, Mpeketoni area administration police chief, said.

“Some hotels in the town are on fire. We don’t know how many casualties are there for now. We understand the attackers have already fled but our officers are pursuing them.”

Kenya’s National Disaster Operation Centre said on Twitter that it suspected the Somalia-based armed group al-Shabab, which has been blamed for previous violence in Kenya, of being behind the latest attack.

Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh, reporting from Nairobi on Sunday, said the attack did not target foreigners in Kenya.

“Attacks frequently carried out by al-Shabab target foreigners, but the latest one targeted locals in a small town,” she said.

Kenya sent troops into Somalia in late 2011, after al-Shabab fighters carried out a series of raids on Kenyan soil. 

Al-Shabab, which has fought a seven-year campaign to impose its interpretation of Islamic law inside Somalia, has said it wants to take revenge for Kenya’s deployment of troops in the Horn of Africa nation.

Kenya has seen a drop in tourist arrivals in recent months following several shootings and grenade attacks blamed on al-Shabab or its sympathisers.

In May, explosions in Nairobi and the coastal city of Mombasa led the UK, US, France and Australia to issue warnings about travel to Kenya, and at least 400 tourists cut short their holidays and left hotels along the Indian Ocean coast.

Kenya called the alerts “unfriendly”, saying they would increase panic and play into the hands of those behind the assaults.



Medics killed in southern Yemen attack

At least eight army medics have been killed and nine others injured while riding a bus in southern Yemen after gunmen opened fire from the roadside, officials told Al Jazeera.

The attack, in which the armed men used Kalashnikov assault rifles, happened on Saturday morning about 15kms north of Aden while it was en route to the nearby Basaheeb military hospital.

I haven’t seen anything scarier than this. The gunmen came out suddenly and opened fire

Mohammed Saleh, witness at the scene

Some of the dead were working for Basaheeb hospital while others were employed at the Fourth Military District, the correspondent said.

Two woman were among the dead, local security officials told the AP news agency.

“I haven’t seen anything scarier than this. The gunmen came out suddenly and opened fire,” said Mohammed Saleh, a civilian witness at the scene, told Reuters news agency.

Al Jazeera’s Saeed Thabet, reporting from the Yemeni capital, said the gunmen launched their attack as soon as the driver slowed down ahead of a speed bump.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

“It could be an act of reprisal by al-Qaeda group just two days after a US drone strike killed five suspected al-Qaeda fighters in the southern Mafraq al-Saeed area in Shabwa province,” Thabet said.

Yemen is the main stronghold of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), one of the armed group’s most active wings.

The US acknowledges using drones to combat AQAP in Yemen but does not comment publicly on attacks.

Attacks against Yemen’s security forces have increased since the army launched an unprecedented campaign beginning in late April to dislodge al-Qaeda fighters from strongholds in southern Yemen.

Al-Qaeda has carried out several hit-and-run attacks since the Yemeni army drove it out of its strongholds of Shabwa and Abyan last month.



Egypt sends 13 to trial for Tahrir sex attack

Egypt’s prosecution service has referred 13 men to trial for alleged sex attacks on women at Cairo’s Tahrir Square, including during inaugural celebrations for new President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, officials have said.

The attacks took place on January 25, 2013, as Egypt marked the second anniversary of the 2011 revolt, and on June 3 and June 8 this year as locals marked Sisi’s election victory and inauguration, the prosecutor general’s office said on Saturday.

The 13 accused, including a minor, are charged with “kidnapping, raping, sexually attacking, attempting to murder and torturing the women”, it said.

If convicted of the charges, the defendants could be sentenced to life imprisonment.

Sisi on Friday paid a visit to one of the survivors of the violence, issuing what may be the first presidential apology to a civilian and promising her to take tough actions against the attackers.

Since the uprising that toppled long-time president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the problem of sexual harassment has worsened in Egypt, with women regularly attacked during rallies by groups of men in and around Tahrir Square, the epicentre of protests.

Widespread outrage

Activists were outraged this week after a graphic video of a woman being sexually assaulted at Tahrir Square went viral on YouTube.

Vocalising sexual harassment in Egypt

The footage, apparently filmed using a mobile phone, shows a mob of men surrounding a young woman, who was stripped of her clothes and badly bruised in the assault.

The prosecution service said police were searching for the person who recorded the video as this action was against “public morals”.

Scores of Egyptians turned out for a demonstration in Cairo on Saturday demanding an end to sexual harassment.

Sabrine Abu Sabaa, a spokeswoman for the anti-harassment group Shayfenkom, said they hoped to be able to eliminate the discomfort encountered every day on Cairo’s streets.

“What I am aiming for is to be able to walk on the street as a woman without feeling that I am in danger, without feeling that all the looks I’m getting are taking a part of my body,” she said.

Egypt, which had no specific law on sexual harassment, only recently approved penalties for such offences to include jail terms, fines or both.

Harassers face between six months to five years in prison, with harsher sentences reserved for offenders holding a position of power over their victims, like being a woman’s superior at work or being armed with a weapon.

Along with the maximum five-year sentence, offenders can be fined up to 5,000 Egyptian pounds, or about $ 714, with the maximum fine reserved for harassers who use a weapon or pressure.



Iraqi Turkmen Under Threat of ISIS Attack

The advance of the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — an offshoot of al-Qaeda — in Iraq has left Iraqi Turkmen facing danger and forced migration, as they do not have their own security force, unlike Kurds and Arabs.

The predominantly Turkmen cities of Telafer and Tuz Khurmatu are under threat from ISIL terrorists, who seized large parts of the city of Mosul in northern Iraq on Tuesday and also the Turkish Consulate in the city early on Wednesday.

Following the capture of Mosul by the terrorists, around 300,000 people have left the city to seek shelter in the country’s autonomous Kurdish region. The Turkmen are not expected to number more than a couple of thousand among those fled, as the Turkmen population lives most densely not in the city center but in towns such as Telafer, near Mosul.

Around 400,000-450,000 Turkmen are estimated to live in Telafer and its small surrounding towns. Some of the Turkmen in Telafer are lightly armed, but they could not possibly resist an ISIL attack for more than a day, Mahir Nakip, a Turkmen scholar at the University of Çankaya, has told Today’s Zaman.

Unlike in Mosul, the people in Telafer do not have any easily accessible town to flee to should the city be faced with an attack. Nakip, who is a Turkmen from Kirkuk, is deeply concerned for the safety of the Turkmen in Telafer, as ISIL, having reportedly taken hostage 48 people posted in Turkey’s Mosul consulate, including Consul General Öztürk Y?lmaz, has gained control of the area around Mosul.

‘Military option should be ready to protect Turkmen’

“If Telafer comes under attack [by ISIL], and the central [Iraqi] government does not intervene, then Turkey should consider a military operation,” Nakip said, emphasizing that Turkey should urgently get in touch with both the Iraqi central government and the Kurdish government in northern Iraq for a solution.

Although Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called the Iraqi Parliament to convene on Thursday to declare a state of emergency, the Iraqi army cannot be depended on to protect Turkmen, as members of the Iraqi armed forces fled from Mosul instead of fighting ISIL.

In Telafer, as in some other Turkmen towns in Iraq, the Turkmen population includes both Shiite and Sunni members. ISIL, as a radical Sunni Islamist group, might particularly target Shiite Turkmen in the region.

Ali Semin, a Middle East analyst at the ?stanbul-based Wise Men Center for Strategic Studies (Bilgesam), is highly concerned about such an eventuality. “If ISIL attacks Shiite Turkmen in Telafer, this will pose a huge danger for Turkmen. Steps should be taken to prevent a split between Sunni and Shiite Turkmen,” Semin has told Today’s Zaman.

Tuz Khurmatu is also under immediate threat, as in the village of Yengice, only three kilometers from Tuz Khurmatu, ISIL reportedly killed two Turkmen on Wednesday. The village of Bastaml?, 15 kilometers from Tuz Khurmatu, has also been seized by ISIL, according to the Do?an news agency.

ISIL has also taken control of Suleyman Bek, a small Turkmen town in the province of Saladin, Nakip said. Tuz Khurmatu, which is situated in the same province, is estimated to have a population of nearly 200,000.

“Turkey may face a wave of Turkmen migration if Mosul turns into a city torn by civil war, like Aleppo,” Semin warned.

Assyrian International News Agency

Militants’ Brazen Attack on Mosul And What It Means For Iraq

Militants believed to be associated with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized key buildings in Iraq’s northern city of Mosul late on June 9, taking over the provincial capital’s headquarters and other administrative buildings after military and police forces abandoned their positions. Here is what we know about the group and what the attack could mean for Iraq: 

What is the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)?

Also referred to as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the group is an Al-Qaeda splinter faction seeking to carve out a caliphate in Sunni-dominated areas of northern Iraq and Syria. The number of members in the group is unclear, though analysts have put it in the thousands. Since late December, ISIL and other Sunni-led militants have controlled parts of Anbar province, including the city of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi. Al-Qaeda disavowed ties with the group in February after months of feuding. The group is infamous for its brutal tactics, including beheadings, floggings, torture and demanding strict adherence to their view of Islamic law, which includes bans on smoking and sex out of wedlock. 

Why did they attack Mosul?

With an estimated population of nearly 2 million, Mosul is Iraq’s second-largest city and has a Sunni Arab majority, though the city has residents of many other religious and ethnic groups. “ISIL draws its strength from Iraq’s Sunni-Arab community. So there’s an obvious reason for doing that,” Kenneth Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told RFE/RL. 

Mosul’s geography is also of significant strategic importance. It is located on the Tigris River, giving it access to water trade routes, and it is also home to pipelines that carry oil into Turkey. The city is also less than 100 miles from Syria, giving the group a potentially strong foothold to control territory on both sides of the border. 

“What they’re looking to do is erase the border. They are looking to set up a unified state within Iraq and Syria,” Pollack said. 

Furthermore, he added, Mosul has produced a significant number of the Iraqi military’s officer corps as well as influential politicians. 

Michael Knights, an expert on Iraqi security at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that ISIL has operated in Mosul “like mafiosi for years, operating in semi-plain sight, controlling all the organized crime rackets, using the city as a fundraising center.” 

“Now they’re going for open control. And that is something that no faction in Iraq can ignore anymore,” Knights told RFE/RL. 

Why is the attack significant?

The sheer size of the target is a demonstration of ISIL’s capabilities, Pollack said. 

“Fallujah, Ramadi: Those are not insignificant-sized towns, but they’re not major cities. Mosul is a major metropolis,” he said. “It would be like a terrorist group attacking Dallas or Philadelphia. These are very big urban areas that they are now trying to take on, and it indicates a degree of strength that I don’t think anyone recognized that they had.” 

Knights said that the ISIL seizure of government buildings in Mosul goes “above and beyond normal chaos in Iraq.” 

“It goes above and beyond losing Fallujah, a place that everyone’s quite happy to write off, typically,” Knights said. “This is a place that nobody can write off. It’s a critical economic hub in the country.” 

Why would soldiers and police abandon their positions?

The reports of Iraqi security forces fleeing the ISIL attackers demonstrates the crucial role that morale plays in armed conflicts in the country, Knights said, citing the Napoleon Bonaparte axiom that “the moral is to the physical as three to one.” 

“In Iraq it’s like six to one. So, if you get 400 really determined fighters, they can make a security force of thousands throw down their weapons and uniforms and run away,” he said. 

How will the Iraqi government respond?

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has asked the parliament to declare a state of emergency, and Iraqi media reported that lawmakers would meet on June 12 to consider the appeal. On June 9, the governor of Iraq’s northern Nineveh province, Athil al-Nujaifi, delivered a televised address asking Mosul residents to fight the militants. 

Meanwhile, the governor’s brother – parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi – asked Iraq’s government and Kurdistan’s regional administration to deploy forces to Mosul. He also said that he also reached out to U.S. Ambassador Robert S. Beecroft to request assistance. 

Knights said that it was not unusual for Iraqi security forces to flee an initial assault and then regroup. 

“They collapse at the start of a fight, they get up, they dust themselves off, and they go back,” he said. “And then, without the element of surprise against them, they do okay. And that’s probably what we’re going to see next.”

with reporting by AP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Pakistan Taliban claims second Karachi attack

The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for a second attack in Karachi, after armed men targeted a security training facility in the compound of the city’s airport, briefly halting flights.

Tuesday’s gunfire came within 48 hours of an assault on Karachi’s international airport that killed at least 36 people and wounded dozens more.

“It was not such a big attack. Two people came towards the ASF checkpost and started firing,” Colonel Tahir Ali, an army spokesman, said on Tuesday.

“They ran away after the firing and because we are on high alert. Under the standard operating procedure we called in [paramilitary] rangers and the army.”

Fighters from the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), or Pakistani Taliban, disguised as police guards stormed a terminal of Karachi airport in the early hours of Monday, setting off explosions.

The TTP later claimed responsibility for the assault and gave warning of more attacks.

Discussing Tuesday’s incident, Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder said a few men attacked the Airport Security Force Academy, which is within the airport compound, forcing all activities there to be briefly suspended.

He said Pakistani authorities played down reports of a major attack and announced that all flights were back to normal at the airport after a brief break.

“The incident has been taken way out of proportion,” he said quoting the Pakistani authorities.

“After the split [within the Pakistani Taliban], it is trying to show that it has not weakened through these attacks. And they should be taken seriously by the government.”

He said the second incident occurred just hours after the government had declared the Karachi airport safe.

Also on Tuesday, rescue workers at the airport retrieved the bodies of seven people who had been trapped in a cold storage facility.

The victims had sought refuge in the facility during Monday’s attack, but the room caught fire and the seven were burned alive.

A TTP spokesman said Monday’s Karachi airport attack was in retaliation for the treatment of Taliban prisoners, air raids in North Waziristan and for the drone-strike death last year of Hakimullah Mehsud, a top Taliban commander.

Against this backdrop, the Pakistani military said in a statement on Tuesday that it carried out air raids in the Tirah Valley area of the northwestern Khyber tribal district, killing about 25 people.

The statement said “nine terrorist hideouts were destroyed” in the raids.



Security Forces Search For Gunmen After Karachi Academy Attack

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Karachi airport training centre under attack

The Airport Security Force Academy in the compound of Pakistan’s international airport in Karachi is under attack by unknown armed men.

The attack follows an all-night siege at the airport that resulted in the deaths of at least 36 people.

Sources told Al Jazeera that intense firing was taking place between security forces and attackers.

Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder said that that four or five men had attacked the academy within the compound of the airport, adding that all activities at the airport had been suspended.

“There are a number of people wounded and we are waiting for more reports,” Hyder said, adding that the armed men were carrying water and food supplies.

“After the split [within Taliban], Pakistani Taliban is trying to show that it has not weakened through these attacks. And they should be taken seriously by the government”

“The airport was declared open yesterday at 10GMT following Monday’s attacks,” Hyder said, stressing that the attack came only hours after the government declared the airport safe.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault and gave warning that more attacks were on the way.

At least two dozen people were wounded and flights were suspended as a result of Monday’s attack.



Sy Hersh Still Under Attack for Blaming Syrian Rebels for Sarin Attack

Syria Sarin

In the Los Angeles Review of Books, sociologist Muhammad Idrees Ahmad takes Seymour Hersh to task for his article The Red Line and the Rat Line in April London Review of Books. Generating even more controversy than he usually does, Hersh, revered and reviled in equal measures, fleshes out the premise that, aided by Turkey, the al-Nusra Front — not the Assad regime — was responsible for the August 2013 sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. (Can you imagine something like that happening in — if you live in one — your suburb?)

Ahmad accuses Hersh of relaying “a cock-and-bull story invented by an interested party and forego[ing] corroboration.” He states that, when the attack occurred,

… employing a weapon that the [Assad] regime was known to possess, using a delivery mechanism peculiar to its arsenal, in a place the regime was known to target, and against people the regime was known to loathe, it was not unreasonable to assume regime responsibility. This conclusion was corroborated by first responders, UN investigators, human rights organizations, and independent analysts.

But Hersh had written about President Obama’s stand-down of an attack against Syria:

Obama’s change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff.

But Ahmad makes some sound points, such as:

… If Assad’s opponents are in possession of sarin and ballistic missiles, why have they never used them for battlefield advantage? … If the United States were determined to intervene, as Hersh insists it was, would it confine itself to a doubtful chemical pretext when there were so many indubitable humanitarian ones to avail? If the regime was innocent, why did it deny UN investigators access to the site for four days and subject the area to unrelenting artillery fire?[i] Why would Turkey … risk its membership in NATO — and, potentially, future membership of the EU — by manufacturing sarin, and do so specifically for a clumsy false flag operation?

Also, regarding Porton Down, the British defense laboratory, Ahmad writes:

According to Hersh’s source, the British confirmed that the sarin didn’t come from the regime’s arsenal. Hersh does not corroborate the claim. [Nor does he] say why he believes the lab would consider valid any sample supplied by Russia, a state determined to absolve its client by any means.

Meanwhile …

Samples were also recovered from the site by the UN. Hersh makes no mention of these. Whatever discoveries Porton Down might have made, they were superseded by what the UN inspectors extracted and studied firsthand.

But what Hersh had written only sounds outrageous if you’re utterly skeptical of this battle-tested reporter’s ability to unearth trustworthy sources. Regarding the samples, he writes:

Within a few days of the 21 August attack, the former intelligence official told me, Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta. They analysed it and passed it on to British military intelligence; this was the material sent to Porton Down.

… The former intelligence official said the Russian who delivered the sample to the UK was ‘a good source – someone with access, knowledge and a record of being trustworthy’.

… The UK defence staff who relayed the Porton Down findings to the joint chiefs were sending the Americans a message, the former intelligence official said: ‘We’re being set up here.’

Ahmad lights into Hersh, but good.

In a time of ongoing slaughter, to obfuscate the regime’s well-documented responsibility for a war crime does not just aid the regime today, it aids it tomorrow. As long as doubts remain about previous atrocities, there will be hesitancy to assign new blame.

Obviously, Hersh can’t pretend the war crime was well documented when he believes otherwise, no matter what the effect on future war crimes by the Assad regime. Ahmad doesn’t let up (emphasis added).

When a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and a respectable literary publication undertake to challenge this consensus, one reasonably expects due diligence.

… But the editors didn’t do that. They gave precedence to storytelling over truth-telling. … in using Hersh as click bait, they provided a smokescreen for new violations.

Ahmad then resorts to outright slander.

This is not the reporting of a journalist; it is the distortion of a propagandist.

As if accusing Hersh of aiding and abetting future Assad war crimes weren’t enough, Ahmad writes:

Hersh may be credulous, but some of his statements leave one wondering if something less benign is at play. He does not just exonerate the regime and saddle its opponents with its crimes; he actually makes a dog-whistle case for Assad keeping his arsenal. “The Syrian regime continues the process of eliminating its chemical arsenal,” but, Hersh warns, “after Assad’s stockpile of precursor agents is destroyed, al-Nusra and its Islamist allies could end up as the only faction inside Syria with access to the ingredients that can create sarin, a strategic weapon that would be unlike any other in the war zone.” The LRB editors let this pass!

Perhaps they let that pass because what Ahmad alleges is a stretch. More:

By now even the most dogmatic among Hersh’s publishers must have realized that they were hoaxed. Their ideological proclivities and eagerness for clicks made the deception easier. They got played — they relayed what is in effect pro-fascist propaganda.

That’s got to be the first time that Hersh was accused of not only being the perpetrator of a hoax, but pro-fascist. While it may be true that Hersh has an agenda — derailing another American rush to war — it doesn’t automatically follow that he’s lying to achieve this end. Besides, nothing Hersh writes suggests he has any illusions about Assad.

Foreign Policy In Focus

UN Condemns Attack On Afghan Candidate

The UN Security Council has condemned an attempt to assassinate Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, calling for an orderly transition to a new government.

Abdullah escaped uninjured from an assassination attempt on June 6 when two explosions targeted his campaign motorcade in Kabul, killing at least 10 people – including three in his entourage – just a week before the second-round presidential runoff on June 14.

Abdullah later told an election rally that the aim of the attack, which heavily damaged the front of his armored car, “was to create fear and anxiety among the people and prevent them from deciding their own destiny.”

A UN Security Council statement said “no terrorist act can reverse the path towards Afghan-led peace, democracy, and stability in Afghanistan – which is supported by the people and the government of Afghanistan and by the international community.”

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

5 Killed In Pakistan Suicide Attack

A suicide bomb attack on a military vehicle has killed five people near Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

The military said the dead included two army officers, both lieutenant colonels, and three civilians.

The June 4 attack happened on a main road outside the town of Fateh Jang, 40 kilometers west of Islamabad.

Police said the bomber, who was on foot, blew himself up near their truck. The civilians were pedestrian passers-by.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

A spokesman for the group, Shahidullah Shahid, said the attack was a revenge for “the bombardment by Pakistani jets of innocent people in tribal areas.”

The air force carried out attacks in the North Waziristan tribal district late last month that killed dozens of people.

Based on reporting by AFP and AP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

‘Dozens killed’ in attack on Nigerian village

Gunmen on motorbikes have killed at least 32 people in the northeastern Nigerian village of Gurmushi, Reuters news agency has reported quoting a police source.

The attack on Wednesday occurred along the Cameroon-border area of Borno state, the police official said on Thursday. Reuters reported that many of the dead had already been buried. 

Borno state is plagued by attacks by Boko Haram fighters, who are engaged in an ongoing battle with the Nigerian government for an Islamic state in the religiously mixed country. 

Reports of the attack come hours after Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said he had ordered a “total war” against the armed group, which last month abducted 219 schoolgirls in Borno.

Jonathan said that he had authorised security forces to use “any means necessary under the law”.

The northeastern state has been under a state of emergency since 2013.

Al Jazeera’s Yvonne Ndege, reporting from the capital Abuja, said the president’s speech had no information on what his government was doing to bring the abducted girls back home.

The phrase “total war” was used by Idriss Deby, the president of neighbouring Chad, following a meeting of West African countries in Paris in mid-May, designed to define a common strategy to fight Boko Haram.

Nigeria has been battling Boko Haram for years without success, and has had to seek assistance from world powers such as the US, France, Britain and China to free the abducted girls.



Libya’s new PM unharmed after attack

Libya’s prime minister, who was recently approved in a contested parliamentary vote, was unharmed in an attack on his home that set off a gun battle with guards, a government official said.

The official said that four attackers fired rocket-propelled grenades at the house of Ahmed Maiteg early on Tuesday, sparking clashes with security guards.

One of the assailants was killed and another was arrested while the rest fled, the official said, speaking to Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker in Tripoli.

“The latest attack highlights the lawlessness and security concerns in Libya, and that the militias are in charge here,” said our reporter.

She added that Maiteg was officially named prime minister late on Monday.

The appointment escalated a political crisis pitting lawmakers and fighters against forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar, who has launched an armed campaign to try to restore order, three years after the revolt that toppled and killed Muammar Gaddafi.

Thousands of Libyans have held demonstrations in recent days demanding the elected assembly halt sessions and accusing it of financing armed groups and acting as their political wing.

Hardliners have condemned the offensive launched earlier this month as a “coup,” while several prominent government officials, diplomats and military units have rallied to Haftar’s cause, hoping he can bring stability to the petroleum-rich North African country.

Many of the heavily armed rebel brigades that defeated Gaddafi’s forces three years ago have since been transformed into militias that refuse to disarm or join the national security forces.

They have been blamed for a string of kidnappings and assassinations of diplomats, government officials, activists, judges, and members of police and army.



Suicide Attack Kills At Least 13 In Baghdad

Iraqi officials say a suicide bomber killed at least 13 people outside a Shi’ite mosque in central Baghdad on May 27.

A police officer said the explosion also wounded at least 26 people.

The officials said the bomber blew himself up at the entrance to the mosque in the capital’s Shorija district.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Violence in Iraq has surged in the past year to its highest level since 2008.

Sunni militant groups often target Iraq’s majority Shi’ites.

The United Nations says violence killed nearly 8,900 people in Iraq last year.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Ukraine troops attack Donetsk airport rebels

Ukraine has launched air raids and a ground assault against rebels who seized Donetsk’s international airport, as the country’s new president promised to reassert control in the east and refused to negotiate with “terrorists”.

Attack helicopters and jets fired on rebel positions in Monday’s operation, while Ukrainian troops were also sent in for a ground offensive. Ukrainian troops blocked access to the site as huge plumes of smoke were seen coming from the area.

The operation came a day after Ukrainians voted in Petro Poroshenko as its new president, and hours after pro-Russian rebels stormed the airport, demanding Ukraine troops leave.

The airport serves a city of one million people, which the rebels have proclaimed capital of an independent “people’s republic”, and where they succeeded in blocking all voting in Sunday’s presidential election.

The attempt to seize the airport may have been intended to prevent Poroshenko from travelling there: he has said his first trip in office would be to visit the restive east.

‘Bandit state’

Poroshenko promised to talk with those in the east who have grievances, but not to those who have taken up weapons.

“They want to preserve a bandit state which is held in place by force of arms,” he said. “These are simply bandits. Nobody in any civilised state will hold negotiations with terrorists.”

The election commission chief , Mykhailo Okhendovskyi, said on Monday that Poroshenko won the presidential election in the first round by collecting more than half the votes

“We can now already draw a fairly important conclusion: there will be no need for a second round. On May 25, 2014, a new president was elected in Ukraine,” Okhendovskyi said.

Poroshenko made clear his most urgent task is finding a modus vivendi with the giant neighbour that has seemed poised to carve Ukraine up since a popular revolt toppled a pro-Russian president in February.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who last month described eastern Ukraine as “New Russia”, has made more accommodating statements in recent days.

He promised at the weekend that Moscow would respect the will of Ukrainians, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated that promise on Monday in saying Russia was ready for dialogue with Poroshenko.



China to mobilise ‘all forces’ after attack

China’s highest-level government official in Xinjiang has called for all forces to be mobilised to find the perpetrators of Thursday’s deadly attack in the regional capital Urumqui, pledging to “crush the swollen arrogance of terrorists”.

Zhang Chunxian’s remarks were reported by the Xinjiang government on its official news website on Friday, a day after five suspects “blew themselves up” in the attack on an open market, killing 31 people, according to state media.

President Xi pledged on Thursday that those responsible for Thursday’s attack would be caught and punished.

The Global Times newspaper said police were investigating whether more accomplices were at large after assailants in two vehicles targeted shoppers and traders and threw explosives at a street market in Urumqi.

The attack was described by authorities as the latest “severe terrorist incident” to hit far-western Xinjiang, home to China’s mainly Muslim Uighur minority.

Policies blamed

China has seen a series of incidents in recent months targeting civilians, sometimes far from Xinjiang itself, which authorities have blamed on separatists from the region.

Critics of China’s policies in Xinjiang say that tensions in the region are driven by cultural oppression, intrusive security measures and immigration by majority Han Chinese which have led to decades of discrimination and economic inequality.

Inside Story – Chinese Uighurs: separatism vs terrorism?

Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brown, reporting from Urumqi on Friday, said the city appeared calm after the attack but there were prominent police patrols at all key intersections.

“What really worries people here is they feel that the market was a really soft target, they were just ordinary Han Chinese going about their business when two vehicles ploughed into a crowd,” he said.

“China is not used to seeing this type of violence. It is a sinister new pattern that is beginning to emerge.”

Some of the shoppers returning to the area on Friday said doing so was an act of defiance.

The China Daily reported on Friday that authorities were boosting security in the capital “after a series of terrorist attacks across the country”.

It said a new patrol plan, covering the skies, subways and streets, was to be implemented in 14 areas, including popular shopping districts and the Beijing Railway Station.

“Once an emergency happens, nearby armed police will take one minute to rush to these areas,” the paper quoted Zhang Bing, deputy director of Beijing Public Security Bureau, as saying.



Gunmen Attack Indian Consulate in Western Afghanistan

Afghan police say at least three gunmen have attacked India’s consulate in the western province of Herat, using machine guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers.

Police say two attackers were killed by Afghan security forces shortly after the attack began, while a third — and possible a fourth — continued to fire at Afghan troops in the late morning hours of May 23.

Abdul Sami Qatra, Herat’s provincial police chief, said one of that one of the attackers who was killed was a suicide bomber.

Qatra said that all of the workers inside the consulate compound were safe.

Syed Akbarrudin, a spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, also confirmed on Twitter that all of India’s diplomatic staff at the consulate were safe.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Bilateral relations between India and Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government in Kabul have been friendly.

India aided the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and is the largest regional provider of humanitarian and reconstruction aid to the country — with more than $ 2 billion in projects that include roads and power plants.

India’s four consulates in Afghanistan are located in Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kandahar, and Jalalabad.

Foreign embassies and consulates remain a favorite target of insurgents in Afghanistan, but many are protected by high walls and multiple gates, as well as security forces.

In August 2013, an attempted bombing of the Indian consulate in Jalalabad near the border with Pakistan killed nine people, including six children.

No Indian officials were hurt in that botched attack.

Attacks on the Indian Embassy in Kabul in 2008 and 2009 killed 75 people.

One group known for targeting Indian interests in Afghanistan is Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India blames for the 2008 attack on the Indian city of Mumbai that killed 166 people.

Another is the Haqqani network, which is based in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.

Lashkar-e-Taiba has been active in Afghanistan in recent years, often teaming up with insurgent groups that operate in the eastern part of Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan.

In 2010, two Kabul guest houses popular among Indians were attacked, killing more than six Indians. India blamed that attack on Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Pakistan has alleged that India, its regional rival, uses its consulates and construction projects in Afghanistan as cover for spy operations.

New Delhi vehemently denies that charge.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Deadly attack follows Nigeria twin blasts

At least 17 people have been killed in an attack on a village in northeastern Nigeria, close to the town of Chibok where hundreds of schoolgirls were kidnapped last month, witnesses have said.

Gunmen stormed the village of Alagarno late on Tuesday and stole food, razed homes and fired on fleeing civilians. 

The attack came hours after twin car bombs exploded at a crowded bus terminal and market in Nigeria’s central city of Jos, killing at least 118 people.

“It was a sudden attack,” said Alagarno resident Haruna Bitrus, in an account supported by other locals. “They began shooting and set fire to our homes. We had to flee to the bush,” he added. 

Many of those who fled Alagarno, ran to Chibok, where the armed group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls on April 14.

RELATED: More than 100 killed Nigeria twin blasts

Meanwhile in Jos, rescue workers continued to comb through the rubble of the twin explosions.

Mohammed Abdulsalam, a coordinator with the National Emergency Management Agency, said fires raged in buildings after the blasts and he expected more bodies to be found.

“We’ve now recovered 118 bodies from the rubble,” he said. “This could rise by morning, as there is still some rubble we haven’t yet shifted.”

Officials said that the bombs were concealed in a truck and a minibus. The second blast killed some of the rescue workers who rushed to the scene, which was obscured by billows of black smoke.

“It’s horrifying, terrible,” said Mark Lipdo of the Stefanos Foundation, a Christian charity based in Jos, who described the smell of burning human flesh.

Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow, reporting from the capital, Abuja, said there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the Jos attack. “However, suspicion will most likely fall on the group Boko Haram,” he said.

Government criticised

The Nigerian government has been heavily criticised for failing to find the hundreds of girls who were taken from their school by members of Boko Haram in April. 

The group has stepped up its use of explosives in attacks that are spreading far beyond its core area of operation, including two in Abuja last month.

A suicide car bomber also killed five people on a street of bars and restaurants in the northern city of Kano on Sunday evening, in an area mostly inhabited by southern Christians.

Boko Haram, who claimed responsibility for the schoolgirls’ abduction in Chibok, has been trying to overthrow the government of Nigeria and establish an Islamic state. Thousands have been killed in the armed group’s five year uprising.



Thai protesters killed in grenade attack

Two anti-government protesters have been killed and 21 wounded after unidentified assailants attacked anti-government protesters in Bangkok, raising fears of wider political violence in Thailand.

Police said two M79 grenades were launched into a protest site at the city’s Democracy Monument early on Thursday and were followed by shooting.

“The first victim was a protester who was sleeping at Democracy Monument, while the second victim was a protest guard who died from gunshots,” Police Major Wallop Prathummuang told the AFP news agency.

In a statement on its website, the city’s Erawan Emergency Centre said two people were killed and 21 wounded, without giving further details.

The deaths take the toll from six months of protests aimed at toppling the government to 27, with hundreds of others wounded in gun and grenade attacks linked to rallies.

In another development protesters broke into the grounds of air force premises where Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan, the interim prime minister, was meeting the Election Commission on Thursday, forcing him to flee, the Reuters news agency reported.

Yingluck Shinawatra was removed as prime minister by a Thai court last week, but was quickly replaced by the ruling Puea Thai party, who are refusing to bow to pressure, saying they are the democratically elected government.



Al-Qaeda fighters attack Yemen army posts

At least 23 people have been killed after suspected al-Qaeda fighters simultaneously attacked two army positions in southern Yemen, highlighting a deteriorating security situation which is the toughest challenge facing the government.

General Mohsen Saeed al-Ghazali, an aide to the country’s defence minister, nine other soldiers and 13 fighters died in the clashes, which focused on military positions in Azzan and neighbouring Jul al-Rida, the army said on Wednesday.

The attacks come five days after Defence Minister Mohamed Nasser Ahmad and two senior security officers survived an ambush as they returned from the south, where the army is pursuing a fortnight-long campaign to clear the area of al-Qaeda fighters.

“The toll of the clashes between the army and terrorists have left 10 soldiers dead, including a general, and 13 in al-Qaeda ranks,” a military officer told the AFP news agency.

“The Yemeni air force is participating in the battles, bombing columns of al-Qaeda vehicles trying to advance towards Azzan,” the Shabwa provincial city the army said it retook last Thursday, the source said.

He said the situation there is now “under control”.

Army operation

The army says it has inflicted heavy losses on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), seen by the US as the network’s deadliest franchise, since it launched the offensives against them on April 29.

The authorities in Sanaa have put security forces in the capital on alert for revenge attacks following the army’s recapture of Azzan, with the US also closing its embassy.

The interior ministry said this week that checkpoints were set up around the provinces of Sanaa, Ibb, Baida, Lahij and Marib to prevent the entry of fighters fleeing the offensives focused on Shabwa and Abyan – both in the south.

“This is something that highlights the biggest challenge facing government troops in Shabwa, in particular,” Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reported from Sanaa, said.

“They [the government] say they made some significant military gains but they haven’t been able to defeat al-Qaeda. Militants are still able to retreat, regroup, take advantage of the terrain they know so well, and launch surprising attacks like the one they launched,” said Ahelbarra.

AQAP took advantage of a 2011 uprising that forced veteran president Ali Abdullah Saleh from power to seize large swathes of southern and eastern Yemen.

The army recaptured several major towns in 2012 but has struggled to reassert control in rural areas, despite the backing of fighters recruited among local tribes.

“Houta, al-Qaeda’s last stronghold in Shabwa, has tribesmen who are trying to negotiate a deal with the armed group, which would grant its members safe passage in exchange for retreating from the whole area,” said Ahelbarra.

“The defence ministry has just said it rejects any deal, and that al-Qaeda fighters have one of two options, either to surrender or get killed.”