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 rejects pleas by Afghan elders for a cease-fire extension

Updated 37 min 55 sec ago
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Taliban rejects pleas by Afghan elders for a cease-fire extension

  • Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid dismissed the peace “slogans”
  • The success of such local initiatives is mixed and may stand little chance as military operations pick up

KABUL: The Taliban on Monday rejected pleas by Afghan elders and activists for an extension of this month’s cease-fire and said they amounted to a call for surrender to foreign forces.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid dismissed the peace “slogans” and urged civil society activists and others not to join movements he said played into the hands of US and international forces the Taliban wants to force from the country.
“They are not speaking about the occupation or the withdrawal of foreigners. Their objective is that we lay down our weapons and accept the regime imposed by the invaders,” he said in a statement.
A truce over the three day Eid Al-Fitr festival this month, during which unarmed Taliban fighters mingled with soldiers and civilians in the capital Kabul and other cities has given fresh impetus to the calls for peace, although many also dismiss the cease-fire as a Taliban trick.
A small group of peace marchers who came to Kabul on foot from the southern province of Helmand this month have also gained prominence, with pleas to all sides to end a conflict which has now lasted for 40 years.
“Tribal elders may not be able to bring about peace and create a cease-fire to the whole country but they can for their own districts and they will,” said Dawlat Wazir, an elder in Jani Khil district in the eastern province of Paktia.
In Jani Khil, elders held a meeting that drew hundreds of people at the weekend, calling on the government and Taliban forces to refrain from fighting in their area.
“We are so fed up with operations by government forces in our areas that trigger fighting for days,” said Malek Sakhto, one of the elders behind the meeting. “We’re pleading with the government and the Taliban to agree on a cease-fire and stop killing each other and civilians.”
The success of such local initiatives is mixed and may stand little chance as military operations pick up.
President Ashraf Ghani ordered government forces to stop offensive operations against the Taliban for another 10 days after the end of the cease-fire but there has since been fierce fighting in several areas.
In Logar, to the south of the capital Kabul, local elders and religious scholars have been trying to arrange a cease-fire in Azra district, according to Abdul Wali, a member of the Logar provincial council.
He said an informal accord had been reached but local people were still waiting for an official announcement from the Taliban shadow governor for Logar, Muallah Ismail Akhondzada.
In Kunar province, on the border with Pakistan, another group of walkers is making its way to Kabul, a statement from the governor’s office said.