Taliban, Daesh jointly massacred 50 civilians: Afghan officials

Smoke rises from the site of a blast in Kabul in this file photo. (Reuters)
Updated 08 August 2017

Taliban, Daesh jointly massacred 50 civilians: Afghan officials

KABUL: The Taliban and Daesh jointly massacred dozens of civilians in an Afghan village, officials said Monday, highlighting rare cooperation between the insurgents that could increase the strain on Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces.
The fighters killed more than 50 men, women and children in the remote Sayad district of northern Sar-e-Pul province on Saturday after overrunning the Afghan Local Police (ALP) — a government-backed militia — in a 48-hour battle, according to local officials.
“It was a joint operation by Daesh and Taliban fighters. They had recruited forces from other provinces of the country and attacked Mirzawalang village,” Zabihullah Amani, a spokesman for the provincial governor, told AFP.
The spokesman alleged that dozens of Taliban and Daesh fighters under the command of Sher Mohammad Ghazanfar, a local Taliban commander who Amani claims pledged allegiance to Daesh, launched a coordinated attack on the area on Thursday.
“The fighters overran the area and it led to the massacre of innocent and defenseless civilians,” he said.
The majority of those killed were Shiites. Most were shot but some were beheaded, Amani added.
Verifying information from poor, mountainous areas of Afghanistan made inaccessible by fighting and with patchy communications is difficult, and AFP was not able to access the village.
Mohammad Noor Rahmani, head of Sar-e-Pul’s provincial council, said 44 of the 50 victims were believed to be civilians, with the ALP militia also suffering casualties.
“This is not the final toll. It might change because the area is inaccessible and no telephone networks are working to get an update,” he told AFP.
The Taliban and Daesh fighters have regularly clashed since the latter gained a foothold in eastern Afghanistan in 2015, as the two vie for supremacy in the war-torn country.
An Afghan security source told AFP there had been around three incidents in the past where fighters from both groups had teamed up to strike Afghan forces in certain areas.
“This is not the first time that they have cooperated. There are no strict ideological distinctions between them so they build bridges when it helps them both. It’s very opportunistic,” the source said.
Daesh has been adding a sectarian twist to the Afghan conflict, with a number of deadly attacks on Shiites in the past year.
Last week two suicide bombers throwing grenades killed more than 33 worshippers at a mosque in Afghanistan’s western city of Herat, in an attack claimed by Daesh.
A resurgent Taliban, whose ranks are mostly made up of Sunni Muslim ethnic Pashtuns, is at the peak of its summer fighting season.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, confirmed to AFP that it had captured Mirzawalang village but said it had done so alone. It also denied allegations it had killed civilians.
“It was an independent operation by our mujahideen forces. There is no cooperation with the Islamic State (Daesh) on the operation,” said the spokesman.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday President Donald Trump has asked his advisers “tough questions” about American strategy in Afghanistan and is not willing to continue on as before.
The White House has launched a review of the US plan for Afghanistan after 16 years of war, and reports suggest that Trump’s national security team is divided on whether to send more troops or to pull out.
Speaking in Manila on the sidelines of a regional security forum, Tillerson did not reveal his own advice to the president — but said Trump would not be content with continuing the fight as before.
“The president is not willing to accept that, so he is asking some tough questions,” Tillerson told reporters.
Tillerson said the president’s National Security Council has met three times on the issue and that Vice President Mike Pence has joined Trump in taking a close interest in the strategy review.


China accuses US of harassing Chinese students, researchers

Updated 03 August 2020

China accuses US of harassing Chinese students, researchers

BEIJING: China on Monday accused the United States of “monitoring, harassing and willfully detaining” Chinese students and researchers in the US
Foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin’s comments follow the denial of a bail request in California for a university researcher accused of lying about her ties to China’s military and governing Communist Party to gain access to the United States.
Wang also criticized the Trump administration for imposing sanctions on a major paramilitary organization in the country’s western Xinjiang region and on two officials for alleged human rights abuses against ethnic and religious minorities.
Wang said China had no intention of helping Juan Tang escape from the United States, but did not otherwise comment directly on the accusations against her.
However, he said China urges the US to “handle the case fairly in accordance with the law and ensure the safety and legitimate rights and interests” due to Tang.
“For some time, the US, with ideological prejudice, keeps monitoring, harassing and willfully detaining Chinese students and researchers, and making presumptions of guilt against Chinese researchers,” Wang said.
“The US actions have seriously violated the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens and severely disrupted the normal cultural and personnel exchanges between China and the US, which amounts to outright political persecution,” he said.
In denying bail, US Magistrate Judge Deborah Barnes said Tang, 37, would have reason to leave the country if released. Tang has been held without bail since July 23 when she was arrested after she left the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco to seek medical care for her asthma.
Tang, who has a doctorate in cellular biology, entered the United States on Dec. 27, 2019, to work at the University of California, Davis, as a visiting researcher in the Department of Radiation Oncology, Alexandra Negin, an assistant federal public defender, said in her filing asking the court for her release on bail. The lab closed because of the coronavirus pandemic and Tang had been preparing to return to China, Negin said.
Tang and three other scientists living in the US face charges of lying about their status as members of China’s People’s Liberation Army, or PLA. All were charged with visa fraud, the Justice Department said.
Tang was the last of the four to be arrested after the Justice Department accused the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco of harboring a known fugitive.
Negin said Tang went to the consulate to seek help and remained there after FBI agents questioned her at her Davis apartment on June 20 and executed a search warrant, seizing her passport and visa.
Agents found photographs of Tang in a uniform of the civilian cadre of the PLA and also reviewed articles from China that identified her military affiliation. Negin argued that the evidence against Tang is based on old photographs from when she was a student at a medical school run by the military and documents that were translated on apps.
Wang said the US State and Treasury Department penalties targeting the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps “seriously interfered in China’s internal affairs and violated the basic norms of international relations.”
The sanctions hit the corps, its commander and former political commissar for alleged abuses against Uighur Muslims, including mass arbitrary detentions, forced labor and torture. They freeze any assets the targets may have in US jurisdictions, and perhaps more significantly, bar Americans from doing business with them,
Wang repeated China’s assertion that it has been acting against violence, terrorism and separatism and that “Xinjiang-related issues are not about human rights, ethnic groups, or religions at all.”
China has used that in an attempt to deflect international condemnation of its internment of more than 1 million Uighurs and members of other Muslim minority groups in prison-like camps that it calls re-education and job training centers, along with other abuses.
The corps acts like a parallel government in the vast, resource-rich region, operating its own schools, courts and a large network of businesses.