18 killed as Taliban strike near historic minaret

Afghan men working at a site near the Minaret of Jam following floodwaters in the Shahrak District of Ghor Province. The minaret of Jam, a revered Afghan historical treasure, has been saved from imminent danger after hundreds of workers diverted surging floodwaters that were gnawing at the 12th-century tower, officials said on May 27, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 29 May 2019

18 killed as Taliban strike near historic minaret

  • Militants capture some checkpoints around the heritage site
  • It is situated on the frontier of Ghor and Herat provinces

HERAT: Taliban fighters have stormed several security posts providing protection to Afghanistan’s historic minaret of Jam, cutting access to the UNESCO World Heritage Site and killing 18 security forces, officials said on Wednesday.

The attack comes less than a week after the revered 12th-century minaret, located in a remote part of the western province of Ghor, was threatened by surging floodwaters.

“The Taliban have captured some checkpoints around the minaret. We had to retreat because more fighting would cause damage to the minaret,” Sayed Zia Hussaini, the deputy police chief of Ghor, said.

Abdul Hai Khatebi, the provincial governor spokesman, said 15 pro-government militias and three policemen had been killed in the attacks, which started on Monday.

“The Taliban have shut off telecommunication towers and have cut any access to the area,” Fakhruddin Ariapur, the Ghor province director of information and culture, said.

“The cleaning-up work (from the flood) has stopped and we don’t know what is happening there.”

Dramatic video footage from late last week showed brown torrents crashing up against the base of the brick minaret, which was built in about 1190. 

FASTFACT

The Jam minaret is the world’s second tallest made of bricks, reaching a height of 65 meters.

On Monday, the government said it had hired about 300 local workers to channel floodwaters away from the tower. The work appeared to have saved the minaret from imminent danger.

Located in an area largely under Taliban control, the Jam minaret is the world’s second tallest made of bricks, reaching a height of 65 meters (213 feet). It is situated on the frontier of Ghor and Herat provinces, at the heart of the former Ghorid Empire, which dominated Afghanistan and parts of India in the 12th-13th centuries.

On Tuesday, a Taliban delegation met a group of senior Afghan politicians in Moscow, insisting that international forces must leave Afghanistan for peace to be agreed, amid gathering diplomatic efforts to end the 18-year war. The delegation, led by chief Taliban negotiator Mullah Baradar Akhund, met politicians, including senior regional leaders and candidates challenging President Ashraf Ghani in this year’s presidential election.

“The Islamic Emirate wants peace but the first step is to remove obstacles to peace and end the occupation of Afghanistan,” Baradar said.

The Taliban, ousted by US-backed forces weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US, refer to themselves as the Islamic Emirate.


Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

Updated 30 October 2020

Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

  • Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants
  • The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital

NAIROBI: A Kenyan court Friday handed prison terms of 33 and 18 years respectively to two men accused of conspiring with the Al-Shabab extremists who attacked Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in 2013, killing 67 people.

Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants from the Somalia-based extremist group who died in what was then Kenya’s worst terrorist attack in 15 years.

The accused asked the judge for leniency, saying they had already served seven years behind bars and had family to care for.

“Despite mitigation by their defense lawyers on their innocence, the offense committed was serious, devastating, destructive, that called for a punishment by the court,” Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi told a Nairobi courtroom.

He sentenced the men to 18 years for conspiracy and 18 for supporting extremists, but ordered they serve both terms together. Abdi was also given an additional 15 years for two counts of possessing extremist propaganda material on his laptop.

He will serve 26 years and Mustafa 11, taking into account their pre-trial detention.

The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital and began throwing grenades and firing indiscriminately on shoppers and business owners.

A four-day siege ensued — much of it broadcast live on television — during which Kenyan security forces tried to flush out the gunmen and take back the high-end retail complex.

Although there was no specific evidence Abdi and Mustafa had provided material help, the court was satisfied their communication with the attackers amounted to supporting the armed rampage, and justified the guilty verdict for conspiracy.

The marathon trial began in January 2014. A third accused was acquitted of all charges.
The Westgate attack was claimed by Al-Shabab in retaliation for Kenya intervening military over the border in Somalia, where the extremist group was waging a bloody insurgency against the fragile central government.

Kenya is a major contributor of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which in 2011 drove Al-Shabab out of Mogadishu and other urban strongholds after a months-long offensive.

In a car the attackers drove to Westgate, police found evidence of newly-activated SIM cards used by the gunmen. Their communications were traced, including calls to Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa.

A fourth defendant, Adan Mohammed Abdikadir, was acquitted in early 2019 for lack of evidence.

The Westgate attack was the deadliest incident of violent extremism on Kenyan soil since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, which killed 213 people.

But since the assault on the shopping complex, Al-Shabab has perpetrated further atrocities in Kenya against civilian targets.

In April 2015, gunmen entered Garissa University and killed 148 people, almost all of them students. Many were shot point blank after being identified as Christians.

In January 2019, the militants struck Nairobi again, hitting the Dusit Hotel and surrounding offices and killing 21 people.

Al-Shabab warned in a January statement that Kenya “will never be safe” as long as its troops were stationed in Somalia, and threatened further attacks on tourists and US interests.

That same month, Al-Shabab attacked a US military base in northeast Kenya in a cross-border raid, killing three Americans and destroying a number of aircraft.