Afghan government has no links with Daesh, former insurgent leader insists

Former Afghan insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, center, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, left, and former militant leader Abdul Rabb Rasool Sayyaf attend a welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace in Kabul on May 4, 2017. (Reuters/File)
Updated 06 January 2018

Afghan government has no links with Daesh, former insurgent leader insists

KABUL: Former Afghan insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who joined President Ashraf Ghani’s government last year, has categorically denied the allegation of links with Daesh militants made by Afghan ex-spy chief Amrullah Saleh.
Daesh has emerged as a complex and murky phenomenon in Afghan militancy as the group stepped up and expanded its attacks in Afghanistan recently.
Saleh served for years as chief of Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), in the previous administration, and was a harsh critic and rival of Hekmatyar during the bloody factional fighting over power in the 1990s. His assertions come amid growing division within the Ghani government and ethnic tension stirred up mostly by politicians and factional leaders.
The veteran Hekmatyar, who is in his late 60s, is a leader of Hizb-e-Islami; one of the main Afghan factions who fought during the Cold War against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Last week, Saleh said the government “had 20 ISIS (Daesh) suspects in custody all having current or pre-reconciliation ties with Hekmatyar. None has been referred to the court system in order to cover up affiliation with Hekmatyar to save the deal. Hekmatyar has been lobbying and bargaining for their release.”
Hekmatyar, in a news conference held in Kabul, Thursday, rejected Saleh’s allegations.
“It is just part of defamation (campaign) by liars. We don’t have any kind of political or party-based relations (with Daesh) and will not think about it. We don’t have relations with the Taliban nor with Daesh or Al-Qaeda or any other party.”
A presidential palace official told Arab News on Friday that if Saleh has concrete evidence backing his claim against Hekmatyar, then he should step forth with it. He added that Saleh’s allegations come amid heightened political and tribal tension that threatens further the stability of the Ghani government.
Daud Kalakani, an ethnic Tajik lawmaker, said that Saleh’s comments were never discussed in the Parliament. He told Arab News that Daesh rank and file comprised defected Taliban militants and former followers of Hekmatyar, but that does not mean Hekmatyar “has any link with Daesh.”
Baktash Siyawash, a political analyst and ex-MP, said legislators in the Parliament have on various occasions accused the “government of using Daesh to suppress and eliminate its political opponents under the label of Daesh.”
“Afghanistan’s political situation is such that these kind of accusations (Saleh’s claim) can very well impact the mindset of the people to quite an extent.”
Daesh, which sprang in Afghanistan in late 2014, has made significant ingress in recent months despite repeated offensives by the Afghan government and US troops based in Afghanistan.
The network has escalated and expanded its attacks across the country over the past few months.
Daesh’s latest suicide attack in Kabul killed more than 20 people, many of whom were police personnel, not far from the presidential palace and the US Embassy. The latest strike was the fourth claimed by the network in less than three weeks in Kabul alone.
Last Thursday, an attack claimed by Daesh on a cultural center in Kabul killed nearly 50 Afghans and injured a dozen others. Days ago, the group targeted the funeral of a former district chief, killing 17 civilians, all of whom were ethnic Pashtuns in eastern Nangarhar province.
In his news conference on Thursday, Hekmatyar said Iran had become a transit route for the flow of Daesh’s defeated fighters in Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan.
“If I say that Daesh comes from Iraq and Syria to Afghanistan through Iran, it will not be an exaggeration.”
Hekmatyar warned against dividing the government among ethnic groups, saying such a move could lead to the disintegration of Afghanistan.


On 16th birthday, California student opens fire at his high school, killing two

Updated 13 min 17 sec ago

On 16th birthday, California student opens fire at his high school, killing two

SANTA CLARITA, California: A Southern California high school student pulled a .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun from his backpack and fired on fellow classmates on Thursday morning, killing two and wounding three others.
He saved the last bullet for himself. It was his 16th birthday.
The teenaged gunman, whose name was not provided by police, survived the self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head but was in grave condition in hospital, law enforcement officials said.
Captain Kent Wegener of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department told reporters the entire incident, captured on videotape, took 16 seconds as the young man stood in one spot and fired on one student after another.
“From right where he was standing, he doesn’t chase anybody, he fires from where he is until he shoots himself,” Wegener said.
The scene at Saugus High School was reminiscent of other mass shootings at US schools, including Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a former student with an assault gun killed 17 people on Feb. 14, 2018.
Wegener confirmed the suspect posted a message on his Instagram account before the shooting that said: “Saugus have fun at school tomorrow.” The post was later taken down.
The two slain students were a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy. Two other girls, aged 14 and 15, were wounded, as was a 14-year old boy, Wegener said.

Students are evacuated from Saugus High School onto a school bus after a shooting at the school left two students dead and three wounded on Nove. 14, 2019 in Santa Clarita, California. (Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP)


Motive unknown
Investigators said they did not yet know what led the student to open fire at the school 40 miles (65 km) north of Los Angeles.
Police said the accused shooter had acted alone. Investigators descended on his family home, blocking off the street. They found no further danger there.
A next-door neighbor, registered nurse Jared Axen, said the suspect had seemed introverted, quiet and sad, possibly despondent over the loss of his father from a heart attack in December 2017.
Axen, 33, said it was the boy who found his father deceased, not long after the older man had regained his sobriety and gotten his life “back on track” after years of struggling with alcohol abuse.
“I would say he (the boy) was hurting and couldn’t ask for help,” Axen said of the suspect, who was a track athlete at the school, involved in Boy Scouts and liked the outdoors, going on hunting trips with his father.
He was of mixed race, born to Japanese-born mother and white father, with an older sister who became a nurse and moved away.
“I would ask him how school was ... he would never bring up concerns of bullying or being a loaner there,” Axen said.
There was no immediate word on where the teen gunman obtained the weapon.
“How do we come out of tragedy? We need to say ‘No more!’ This is a tragic event. It happens too frequently,” said Captain Robert Lewis of Santa Clarita Valley sheriff’s station, striking an emotional note in an otherwise somber news conference.


Latest school shooting
A 16-year-old Saugus High School junior named Pamela, who spoke to Reuters on condition that she not give her last name, said she was in her first-period choir class when some girls ran into the room and said there was a shooting going on.
“Our teacher immediately grabbed a fire extinguisher and got us into her office and locked the door,” Pamela said, adding that one of the girls had been shot in the shoulder.
Taylor Hardges reported seeing people running in the hallways shouting “Run!” She raced into a classroom, where a teacher barricaded the room.
“We’ve had drills. It doesn’t prepare you for the real thing,” she said after reuniting with her father at a designated spot in Santa Clarita’s Central Park.
Her father, Terrence Hardges, said he felt his heart race after Taylor texted him from inside the classroom with the message: “I love you. I’m pinned in a room. We’re locked in.”
The shooting at Saugus was the 85th incidence of gunfire at a school this year, according to Everytown, a gun control advocacy group. It seems sure to reignite a debate over gun control in the 2020 presidential election.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School, where two teenagers went on a rampage, fatally shooting 12 students and a teacher and wounding more than 20 others before killing themselves.