Gunman kills four in Northern California shooting spree

Two women embrace outside Rancho Tehama Elementary School, where a gunman opened fire on Tuesday, in Corning, Calif. (AP)
Updated 15 November 2017

Gunman kills four in Northern California shooting spree

RED BLUFF, California: A gunman choosing targets at random opened fire in a rural Northern California town Tuesday, killing four people at several sites and wounding others at an elementary school before police shot him dead, authorities said.
The gunfire began around 8 a.m. in the community of Rancho Tehama Reserve, about 130 miles north of Sacramento.
Police offered no immediate word on the assailant’s motive, but a sheriff’s official said the shooter’s neighbors had reported a domestic violence incident.
“It was very clear at the onset that we had an individual that was randomly picking targets,” Tehama County Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston said.
Witnesses reported hearing gunshots and children screaming at an elementary school about five miles down a road from where the shooting is believed to have started.
Several people were wounded at the school, said Jeanine Quist, an administrative assistant with the Corning Union Elementary School District.
Salvador Tello said the gunman fired at a truck in front of him as he was dropping off his three children. Tello said he was about three blocks from the school when bullets made “big holes” in the truck in front of him.
He said he forced his children to duck down and slammed his truck into reverse and headed to the children’s grandmother’s house.
“I put my kids down and put my truck in reverse and went out,” he said. “I don’t believe it because I wake up, take my kids, feed them cereal and put them in the truck and says ‘Let’s go to school like a normal day.’“
On the way, he said, he saw an apparent gunshot victim and police at another scene.
Details were still sketchy hours after the shootings, and authorities did not have a firm count of the wounded due to the number of places the gunman attacked, Johnston said.
Authorities recovered a semi-automatic rifle and two handguns.
The rural subdivision is described on its website as a “quiet private country community” where “the people are friendly and the pace is relaxed.” The homeowner association’s website says there are 2,016 lots in the community and 1,346 voting members.
Two hospitals said they were treating a total of seven gunshot victims, including at least three children.
At least one student was wounded at the school. Another child was shot while driving with a woman, who also was wounded, Johnston said.
He declined to release the name of the shooter but said he was “aware” of a domestic violence incident that neighbors reported.
Brian Flint told the Record Searchlight newspaper in the city of Redding that his neighbor, whom he knows only as Kevin, was the gunman and that his roommate was among the victims. He said the shooter also stole his truck.
“The crazy thing is that the neighbor has been shooting a lot of bullets lately, hundreds of rounds, large magazines,” Flint said. “We made it aware that this guy is crazy and he’s been threatening us.”


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

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.