Suicide attack on Kurdish-US convoy in Syria kills 5: monitor

The attack on Hasakah killed five members of a Kurdish-led force who were accompanying US-led coalition troops. (AFP)
Updated 21 January 2019
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Suicide attack on Kurdish-US convoy in Syria kills 5: monitor

  • The suicide attack occurred on a road in Hasakah province, in the north east of Syria
  • The coalition confirmed the attack by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device

BEIRUT: A suicide car bomb attack on a military convoy in northeastern Syria on Monday killed five members of a Kurdish-led force accompanying US troops in an anti-extremist coalition, a monitor said.

The attack, claimed by the Daesh group, came less than a week after another deadly attack on US forces in Syria and a month after Washington announced a US troop pullout from the war-torn country.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said five fighters from the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were killed in the blast on a road in Hasakah province.

“A suicide attacker driving a bomb-laden car targeted a convoy of American forces accompanied by the SDF on the Hasakah-Shadadi road,” the Observatory said.

Shadadi lies to the south of Hasakah, capital of the eponymous province, which has been relatively spared by the war that erupted in Syria nearly eight years ago.

The coalition confirmed the attack by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, but said there were no US casualties.

“A combined US and Syrian partner force convoy was involved in an apparent VBIED attack today in Syria,” coalition spokesman Sean Ryan said on Twitter.

“There were no US casualties.”

The head of the Britain-based Observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman, said the attacker had plowed into an SDF vehicle.

Footage on Kurdish media showed a plume of grey smoke rising up from a narrow road flanked by dry land.

A witness told AFP the blast took place by a checkpoint held by Kurdish forces a dozen kilometers outside Shadadi as the US convoy drove past.

The witness said he heard planes fly overhead, before the area was completely cordoned off by Kurdish fighters.

The Kurdish Asayesh security forces said no one had died in the attack, which hit ten meters from a checkpoint outside Shadadi.

“A bomb-laden car driven by a terrorist tried to target a coalition convoy as it passed by, lightly wounding a female member of the Asayesh,” the statement said, reporting no other casualties.

Daesh propaganda channel Amaq claimed the attack on a joint US-Kurdish convoy.

The attack came less than a week after another attack on the US-led force and its local partners in the strategic city of Manbij.

Four Americans — two members of the military, a Pentagon civilian and a contractor — were killed in a blast that targeted a restaurant in the city center on January 16.

It was also claimed by Daesh.

The Manbij attack cost Washington its worst combat losses since it deployed in the war-torn country to combat Daesh, who established a self-proclaimed “caliphate” across swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

Ten civilians and five SDF fighters were also killed in the Manbij attack.

The US Department of Defense had previously reported only two American personnel killed in combat in Syria, in separate incidents.

This month’s attacks targeting the US-led coalition and its allies follow US President Donald Trump’s shock December announcement that he had ordered a complete troop pullout from Syria, as Daesh had been “largely defeated.”

Trump and other senior US officials have since sent mixed messages about the pace and scope of the withdrawal.

Turkey has repeatedly urged Washington to make way for its own military plans in northern Syria, where the beleaguered Kurds are increasingly turning to the regime and its Russian sponsor for support.

The SDF is fighting to expel Daesh fighters from the remaining shreds of the extremist group’s “caliphate” in a small pocket of land in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border.

Syria’s complex war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since it started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.


Sudan protesters remain resilient, but Bashir unbowed

Updated 19 February 2019
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Sudan protesters remain resilient, but Bashir unbowed

  • Demonstrators are pressing on with rallies despite a show of defiance from the veteran leader and a sweeping crackdown by the authorities
  • Officials say 31 people have died in protest-related violence so far

KHARTOUM: Sudanese protester Osman Sulaiman has taken to the streets of Khartoum chanting “overthrow, overthrow” almost daily since demonstrations erupted against President Omar Al-Bashir’s iron-fisted rule in December.
And he insists he has no intention of stopping now.
“We have to fight our battle if we have to secure our future and the future of our country,” Sulaiman, an engineering graduate who has been unemployed for years, told AFP.
As the protest campaign against Bashir’s regime enters its third month on Tuesday, demonstrators are pressing on with rallies despite a show of defiance from the veteran leader and a sweeping crackdown by the authorities.
Officials say 31 people have died in protest-related violence so far, while Human Rights Watch says at least 51 have been killed including medics and children.
Hundreds of protesters, opposition leaders, activists and journalists have been jailed by agents of the feared National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).
“The protesters’ resilience has been very impressive,” says Murithi Mutiga of International Crisis Group (ICG).
“Two months have passed, but the movement’s momentum has remained and participation has grown geographically and across socio-economic classes.”
On Sunday, scores of protesters rallied in Khartoum chanting their catchcry “freedom, peace, justice” as police fired tear gas.
Demonstrations first erupted on December 19 in the farming town of Atbara against a government decision to triple the price of bread.
But the rallies swiftly mushroomed into a major challenge to Bashir’s three-decade rule, with those taking part demanding his resignation.
From the provinces to the streets of the capital and its twin city Omdurman the demonstrations have spread through villages, towns and cities across the east African nation.
They have drawn in a cross section of society including middle-class professionals, agricultural laborers, youths and Bashir’s political opponents — with thousands of women and men rallying across the country on some days.
Only the three conflict zones of Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan have remained largely devoid of mass demonstrations.
“Despite the violence unleashed by the regime, the movement has extended even to the rural areas,” said Mohamed Yusuf, a spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an umbrella group of unions that has spearheaded the campaign.
“We believe the movement will not stop as new groups have joined it.”
Sudan’s main opposition National Umma Party led by former premier Sadiq Al-Mahdi has backed the campaign and called for Bashir to step down.
Bashir swept to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989 that overthrew the elected government of Mahdi.
The SPA has called on political groups to join their movement by signing a “Document for Freedom and Change.”
The text outlines a post-Bashir plan including rebuilding Sudan’s justice system and halting the country’s dire economic decline, the key reason for the nationwide demonstrations.
Sudan’s financial woes were long a cause of popular frustration before the anger spilt onto the streets after the bread price hike.
Soaring inflation along with acute foreign currency shortages have battered the economy, especially after the independence of South Sudan in 2011 took away the bulk of oil earnings.
Protest campaigners have kept their supporters motivated by announcing rallies on behalf of detained comrades or to honor “martyrs” killed in the protests.
If security forces have prevented protesters from reaching downtown Khartoum, then they have rallied in outlying neighborhoods, sometimes at night.
On occasion, the calls to protest have failed to mobilize people, but there have also been demonstrations that have seen crowds of professors, doctors, engineers and teachers chanting anti-Bashir slogans.
The president’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) insists that after two months the campaign has begun petering out.
“The protests continued for a long time but the reality is that demonstrations have now slowed,” said NCP spokesman Ibrahim Al-Siddiq.
“This is because protesters lack popular support.”
Analysts say continuing support from the security forces for the regime and Bashir’s own defiance have created a deadlock.
“The president remains very stubborn and the protesters remain very determined,” said Mutiga of ICG.
“What we now have is a clear stalemate.”
Bashir has countered the demonstrations with his own rallies, promising economic development in the country and promoting peace in its war zones.
Dismissing calls for his resignation, he has insisted that the ballot box is the only way to change the government.
The 75-year-old leader is considering a run for a third term in an election scheduled in 2020.
For now, those taking to the streets say they will keep up the pressure.
Aaya Omer, a resident of Khartoum’s eastern district of Burri, shows no sign of giving up.
“We will continue with our struggle because we deserve a better life,” the 28-year-old woman said.
“I’ll continue to protest until our mission to overthrow this regime is achieved.”