Masked gunman kills woman, wounds several others at Nashville church

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Police investigate a suspicious car in the parking lot of the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ on September 24, 2017 in Antioch, Tennessee. One person was killed and seven were wounded when a gunman opened fire in the church. (Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images/AFP)
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This undated photo provided by Metro Nashville Police Department shows Emanuel Kidega Samson. A gunman entered a church in Tennessee on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, and opened deadly fire an official said. Metropolitan Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron identified the Samson. (Metro Nashville Police Department via AP)
Updated 25 September 2017
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Masked gunman kills woman, wounds several others at Nashville church

TENNESSEE: A masked gunman killed a woman in the parking lot of a Tennessee church on Sunday morning and wounded six worshipers inside the building before shooting himself in a scuffle with an usher who rushed to stop the attack.
The shooter, identified as Emanuel Kidega Samson, 25, walked into Nashville’s Burnette Chapel Church of Christ wearing a ski mask and opened fire, Metropolitan Nashville Police spokesman Don Aaron told reporters.
As the church usher grappled with the suspect, he was struck in the head with the gunman’s weapon before the suspect fired and wounded himself in the chest, police said.
Although injured, the usher, 22-year-old Robert Engle, then retrieved a gun from his vehicle, re-entered the sanctuary and held the suspect at bay until police arrived.
“This is an exceptionally brave individual,” Aaron said of the usher during a briefing outside the church in Antioch, about 10 miles (16 km) southeast of downtown Nashville.
About 50 people were worshipping at the church when the gunman entered. Samson was armed with two pistols and had another handgun and a rifle in his sport utility vehicle, according to a police statement.
Police had not determined the motive behind the shooting, but the spokesman said evidence was found that might establish why the man opened fire.
Church members told investigators Samson attended the church in the past, but not recently, Nashville police said in a statement.
Samson was charged with murder, and authorities planned to bring other charges against him, police said.
A churchgoer, Melanie Smith, 39, of Smyrna, Tennessee, was fatally shot in the parking lot, where she was found lying next to the suspect’s blue SUV.
All but one of the six people wounded by gunfire were 60 or older and were taken to nearby hospitals, said Nashville Fire Department spokesman Joseph Pleasant. At least some of the wounded were in critical condition, he said.
The church’s pastor, Joey Spann, was shot in the chest and was being treated at a hospital, WKRN television news channel reported, citing the pastor’s son. The Nashville Christian School, where Spann is a coach and Bible teacher, said Spann’s wife also was injured.
Samson was treated at a hospital and transferred to a jail. In a photo released by police, he was shown walking in blue hospital garb, as police officers led him along a walkway.


US wants Afghan-led peace talks with Taliban, Ghani says

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a news conference in Kabul. (REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail)
Updated 17 July 2018
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US wants Afghan-led peace talks with Taliban, Ghani says

  • The US media on Monday, citing anonymous US officials, reported that Washington was keen to hold direct talks with the Taliban.
  • Secretary of State Michael Pompeo visited Afghanistan last week to reinforce US support for the talks.

KABUL: A spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday said that the US wants peace talks with the Taliban to be led by the Afghan government, dismissing reports that Washington was open to holding direct talks with the militants to end the 17-year war.

“The United States of America is jointly working with the government of Afghanistan on a strategy for peace process,” Duranai Waziri, spokeswoman for President Ashraf Ghani, told Arab News.

“Any talks that will be held about the political future of Afghanistan will be between the Afghan government and the Taliban under the leadership of the Afghan government,” she said. 

Waziri said Washington would, however, facilitate the talks.

The US media on Monday, citing anonymous US officials, reported that Washington was keen to hold direct talks with the Taliban, a longstanding demand of the militants for ending the conflict.

The top US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, in a statement late Monday night, also rejected media reports that quoted him talking about engaging the Taliban in direct talks. 

“Resolute Support refutes reports by the media that the Resolute Support commander said the US is ready to join direct negotiations with the Taliban during a visit with Afghan provincial and government representatives in Kandahar, July 16,” the statement said.  “The United States is not a substitute for the Afghan people or the Afghan government,” the statement said. 

Gen. Nickolson said that he was only affirming Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s statement in which he said peace talks would include a discussion of international forces and that the US was ready to work with the Taliban, the Afghan government and the Afghan people toward lasting peace.

Sayed Ihsan Taheri, a spokesman for the Afghan High Peace Council, said that the US role would be to speed up the peace process and that any talks would be held under the Afghan government’s umbrella and  owned by Afghans.

“This engagement is only for speeding up the Afghan led and owned direct talks to start between the Afghan government and the Taliban,” he told Arab News.

The Taliban did not officially respond to confirm or deny the reports. 

The group has long refused direct talks with the Afghan government, demanding instead to negotiate with Washington, and has shown a preparedness to speak with Kabul only when all foreign troops have left the country.

The Taliban have been standing firm on their stance despite Ghani’s unilateral extension of a holiday cease-fire last month in the hope of encouraging the militants to come to the bargaining table.

After the Taliban stepped up deadly attacks, Ghani ordered government forces to resume military operations this month.

Asked if the US is willing to hold direct talks with the Taliban, the State Department said on Monday that the US was “exploring all avenues to advance a peace process in close consultation with the Afghan government,” the Associated Press reported.

The department added that “any negotiations over the political future of Afghanistan will be between the Taliban and the Afghan government.”

Last August, President Donald Trump announced a new strategy for Afghanistan which saw a surge in the number of offensives against the militants.

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo visited Afghanistan last week to reinforce US support for the talks. He said that the US was ready to “support, facilitate and participate” in discussions with the Taliban over the role of international forces in Afghanistan but that the peace process would be Afghan-led.

The US in an invasion toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and ousted the Taliban regime that had hosted Al-Qaeda. 

The US currently has about 15,000 troops in Afghanistan, mostly for training government forces.