Daesh claims pre-Christmas suicide bombing of Pakistan church, nine dead

A policeman guides a family after after gunmen attacked the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta, Pakistan December 17, 2017. (Reuters)
Updated 17 December 2017
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Daesh claims pre-Christmas suicide bombing of Pakistan church, nine dead

QUETTA, Pakistan: A suicide bomb attack on a Pakistan church claimed by the Daesh group killed at least nine people and wounded more than 50 during a service on Sunday, just over a week before Christmas.
Two women were among the dead at a Methodist church in the restive southwestern city of Quetta in Balochistan province, said provincial Home Secretary Akbar Harifal.
Several of the wounded were in serious condition, police added.
Officials said police intercepted and shot dead one attacker outside the church before he could detonate his bomb. But the second managed to reach the church’s main door, where he blew himself up.
“Police were quick to react and stop the attackers from entering into the main hall,” provincial police chief Moazzam Jah told AFP.
Each attacker was carrying 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of explosive plus grenades, said civil defense official Aslam Tareen.
Daesh, in a brief statement on its Amaq news agency, claimed responsibility.
Balochistan provincial home minister Sarfraz Bugti said around 250 people normally attend the church on Sundays, but the congregation had swelled to around 400 because it was close to Christmas.
“God forbid, if the terrorists had succeeded in their plans more than 400 precious lives would have been at stake,” tweeted the home minister.
An AFP reporter at the scene saw shattered pews, shoes and broken musical instruments littered across the blood-smeared floor of the church.
Liaqat Masih, a member of the congregation, said he was heartbroken by the violence and feared for his life as the firefight erupted between one attacker and police, who were later reinforced by paramilitaries and regular troops.
“I am devastated to see many of our dear ones dead and wounded today here in front of me,” said Masih, 35.
Hours after the attack reports surfaced that a total of four attackers had been involved, with two escaping.
Senior police official Abdul Razzaq Cheema said investigators were analyzing CCTV footage to check the claim and had launched a search for any further suspects.
Christians make up an estimated 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s 200 million people and have long faced discrimination — sidelined into lowly paid jobs and sometimes the target of trumped-up blasphemy charges.
Along with other religious minorities, the community has also been hit by extremist militants over the years.
Following the latest attack, dozens of Christians protested in the northwestern city of Peshawar and called on officials to protect religious minorities.
In 2013, 82 people were killed when suicide bombers targeted a church in the city.
And last year Lahore suffered one of Pakistan’s deadliest attacks during the Easter season — a suicide bomb in a park that killed more than 70 people including many children.
The bombing was later claimed by the Jamaat ul Ahrar faction of the Pakistani Taliban.
Police and troops have been battling extremists and nationalist insurgencies in mineral-rich Balochistan for more than a decade.
Balochistan, bordering Iran and Afghanistan, is the largest of the country’s four provinces but its roughly seven million people have long argued they do not get a fair share of its vast gas and mineral wealth.
Efforts to promote peace and development have reduced the violence considerably in recent years.
The push includes continuing work on a mammoth Chinese infrastructure project — the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor — which will provide Beijing with a modern-day Silk Road to the Arabian Sea through Balochistan’s deep-sea port of Gwadar.


Taliban push for withdrawal of foreign troops in two-day talks

Updated 19 December 2018
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Taliban push for withdrawal of foreign troops in two-day talks

  • Reject reports that discussions were centered around a cease-fire and Afghan polls
  • Meeting involved representatives from the US, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE

ISLAMABAD, KABUL: Putting an end to speculations surrounding the content of discussions that took place between representatives of the US and the Afghan Taliban during the two-day talks in the UAE, the militant group said on Wednesday that the “focal point of the discussion” was the “withdrawal of foreign troops".

The statement further rejected reports that a ceasefire, formation of an interim government, and parliamentary elections in Afghanistan were discussed between the two parties.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US' special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, led the delegation for the talks which began on Monday in the presence of officials from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

After the meetings, he had tweeted that the two-day talks, to promote intra-Afghan dialogue in order to end the conflict in Afghanistan, had been productive.

Khalilzad flew into Pakistan where he met the army's top commander, General Qamar Javed Bajwa in Rawalpindi, with the military spokesman's saying that matters of regional security and the Afghan peace process were discussed.

“Visiting dignitary appreciated Pakistan's efforts for the Afghan peace process. The COAS (Chief of the Army Staff) reiterated that peace in Afghanistan is important for Pakistan and assured cont efforts for bringing peace and stability in the region,” the spokesman tweeted.

He added that both sides discussed measures to create underlying conditions for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan after 40 years of conflict.

Earlier in the day, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said no talks had taken place with the Kabul administration and that other issues would not be discussed because the “root cause of all problems and the biggest obstacle to peace is the occupation of Afghanistan and bringing it to an end".

He added that any future negotiations would take placd after deliberations and consultations with the respective leadership from both sides.

Mujahid said that the Taliban representatives presented “documented information and proof to the participants about indiscriminate bombings against civilians and demanded its immediate halt. Talks were also held about humane treatment of prisoners and their freedom, a matter that shall be taken into consideration".

Another Taliban official, privy to the discussions that took place in the UAE, said that the US had called for the release of two professors from the American University of Kabul, who were kidnapped in 2016 and were in the Taliban's custody.

He added that US officials reiterated their longstanding concerns about the imminent threats to Washington from Afghanistan and that the Taliban assured them that their “activities are only limited to Afghanistan".

The official, who did not want to be identified, told Arab News that the Taliban's chief, Maulvi Habitullah, had authorized senior officials -- including former ministers Amir Khan Mutaqi, Mullah Abbas, and other senior leaders Siddiqullah, Hafiz Yahya Haqqani, Saadullah Hamas and Dr Faqeer -- to participate in the talks.

“As far as the results of these negotiations are concerned and how effective they shall prove in finding a peaceful solution to the continuing problems will be answered in the upcoming weeks and months,” the Taliban posted on their official website on Tuesday.

In Kabul, Omer Daudzai, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s newly-appointed envoy told a gathering on Wednesday that "work on the peace deal will begin in the near future". He gave no further details.

Due to the sensitive nature of the talks, no formal details of the meeting have been made available to the public yet. However, Reuters quoted a Taliban source on Tuesday when it reported that the Taliban had discussed conditions for a truce, swapping of prisoners, and the formation of an interim government with the US officials.

The reports, however, were rejected by Mujahid. “Reuters News Agency has been publishing false reports since yesterday about the meeting taking place between representatives of the Islamic Emirate and the United States in the United Arab Emirates,” he said.

“Talks in Abu Dhabi are taking place with the United States about ending the occupation and American intervention. Nothing about an interim government, ceasefire, elections nor any other internal issue is being discussed, rather the main topic is the American occupation,” he added.

The US embassy in Kabul said Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on Wednesday to update President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah on his engagements with regional partners and other interested parties to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan.

Khalilzad arrived in Kabul after three-days of meetings in Abu Dhabi, including the fourth round of quadrilateral meetings between the United States, Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, a statement said. 

The meetings were a part of efforts by the United States and international partners to promote an intra-Afghan dialogue aimed at ending the conflict in Afghanistan.