Daesh claims bombing at Kabul wedding that killed 63; Afghan PM says Taliban also to blame

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Afghan men carry the bodies of the victims during a mass funeral after a suicide bomb blast at a wedding in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 18, 2019. (REUTERS/Omar Sobhani)
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Afghan men dig graves during a mass funeral after a suicide bomb blast at a wedding in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 18, 2019. (REUTERS/Omar Sobhani)
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Relatives grieve near the coffins of victims of the Dubai City wedding hall bombing during a mass funeral in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug.18, 2019. (AP)
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Workers inspect a wedding hall after it was hit by a suicide bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 18, 2019. (REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail)
Updated 19 August 2019
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Daesh claims bombing at Kabul wedding that killed 63; Afghan PM says Taliban also to blame

  • Saudi Arabia denounces bombing, renews ‘firm position’ against violence
  • The Taliban have condemned the attack and denied any involvement

KABUL: The suicide bomber stood in the middle of the dancing, clapping crowd as hundreds of Afghan children and adults celebrated a wedding in a joyous release from Kabul’s strain of war. Then, in a flash, he detonated his explosives-filled vest, killing dozens — and Afghanistan grieved again.

The local Daesh affiliate claimed responsibility for the deadliest attack in the capital this year, with 63 killed and 182 wounded, while outraged Afghans questioned just how safe they will be under an approaching deal between the United States and the Taliban to end America’s longest war.

The Taliban condemned the attack but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said they shared responsibility. “The Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide a platform for terrorists,” he said.

Ghani said the attack was “barbaric,” and Afghanistan’s chief executive Abdullah Abdullah described it as a “crime against humanity.”

Saudi Arabia offered its condolences to the victims’ families and the government and people of Afghanistan, wishing the injured a speedy recovery.. “We condemn and denounce the suicide bombing,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. 

“We renew the Kingdom’s firm position against targeting and terrorizing innocent people, and all manifestations of terrorism and violence.”

The explosion came just ahead of Afghanistan’s 100th Independence Day on Monday. The city, long familiar with checkpoints and razor wire, has been under heavier security. It was not immediately clear if planned events in Kabul would go ahead.

 

 

Peace talks

The attack came as the Taliban and the US try to negotiate an agreement on the withdrawal of US forces in exchange for a Taliban commitment on security and peace talks with the Afghan government. So far the Taliban have refused to talk to the government.

The US special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the attack showed the need to accelerate efforts to reach a deal with the Taliban, to help defeat Daesh.

But there are concerns among Afghan officials and US national security aides that Afghanistan could be plunged into a new civil war that could bring a return of Taliban rule and a refuge for extremists such as Daesh.

While the US wants Taliban assurances that Afghanistan will no longer be used as a launch pad for global terror attacks, there appear to be no guarantees of protection for Afghan civilians.

The Taliban, which the US hopes will help curb the Daesh affiliate’s rise, condemned Saturday’s attack as “forbidden and unjustifiable.”

The blast took place in a western Kabul neighborhood that is home to many in the country’s minority Shiite Hazara community. Daesh, which declared war on Afghanistan’s Shiites nearly two years ago and has claimed responsibility for many attacks targeting them in the past, said in a statement that a Pakistani Daesh fighter seeking martyrdom targeted a large Shiite gathering.

The wedding, at which more than 1,200 people had been invited, was in fact a mixed crowd of Shiites and Sunnis, said the event hall’s owner, Hussain Ali.

Ali’s workers were still finding body parts, including hands, in the shattered wedding hall, its floor strewn with broken glass, pieces of furniture and victims’ shoes.

“We have informed the police to come and collect them,” he said.

The bomber detonated his explosives near the stage where musicians were playing and “all the youths, children and all the people who were there were killed,” said Gul Mohammad, another witness.

Survivors described a panicked scene in the suddenly darkened hall as people screamed and scrambled to find loved ones.

“I was with the groom in the other room when we heard the blast and then I couldn’t find anyone,” said Ahmad Omid, who said the groom was his father’s cousin. “Everyone was lying all around the hall.”

 

Buried with bare hands

Many of the dead and wounded were women and children attending the wedding. Bodies were strewn amid overturned tables and chairs, with dark bloodstains on the wedding hall carpet.Both the bride and groom survived the attack, but newlywed Mirwais Elmi was distraught. “I won’t ever be able to forget this, however much I try,” he said.

“My family, my bride, are in shock, they cannot even speak. My bride keeps fainting. I lost my brother, I lost my friends, I lost my relatives. I will never see happiness in my life again.”

The bride’s father said 14 members of his family had been killed.




An Afghan boy mourns during the funeral of his brother who wasn killed in a suicide bomb attack at a wedding in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 18, 2019. (REUTERS/Omar Sobhani)

 

“People were dancing and celebrating the party when the blast happened,” said wedding guest Munir Ahmad, 23, who was seriously injured. “After the explosion there was total chaos. Everyone was screaming and crying for their loved ones.”

Stunned families buried the dead, some digging with their bare hands. One wounded survivor, Mohammad Aslim, still wore his bloodied clothes the day after the blast late Saturday. He and his friends had already buried 16 bodies, among them several close relatives, including a 7-year-old boy.

Aslim looked exhausted, and said he was waiting to bury more. Nearby a man named Amanullah, who lost his 14-year-old son, said in anguish that the explosion had mangled the boy’s face so badly he could no longer recognize it.

“I wish I could find the pieces of my son’s body and put them as one piece into the grave,” he cried.

The blast at the wedding hall, known as Dubai City, shattered a period of relative calm in Kabul.

On Aug. 7, a Taliban car bomber aimed at Afghan security forces detonated his explosives on the same road, a short drive from the hall, killing 14 people and wounding 145 — most of them women, children and other civilians.

Kabul’s huge, brightly lit wedding halls are centers of community life in a city weary of decades of war, with thousands of dollars often spent on a single evening.

Messages of shock poured in on Sunday. “Such acts are beyond condemnation,” the European Union mission to Afghanistan said. “An act of extreme depravity,” US Ambassador John Bass said. A deliberate attack on civilians “can only be described as a cowardly act of terror,” UN envoy to Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto said.

(With AP)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Venezuela’s rival factions take power struggle to UN after talks fail

Updated 19 September 2019

Venezuela’s rival factions take power struggle to UN after talks fail

  • Guaido is seeking to get more countries, especially the European Union, to implement sanctions on Venezuela
  • Maduro calls Guaido a US puppet seeking to oust him in a coup

CARACAS/WASHINGTON: Venezuela’s rival political factions will take their power struggle to New York next week, where representatives of President Nicolas Maduro and opposition chief Juan Guaido will each try to convince a gathering of world leaders at the United Nations that their boss is the country’s legitimate head of state.
The United States and more than 50 other countries recognize Guaido, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, as the rightful president. Guaido in January invoked the constitution to assume a rival presidency to Maduro, arguing the socialist president’s May 2018 re-election was a sham.
But the 193-member UN General Assembly still recognizes Maduro, who retains the support of the UN Security Council’s veto-wielding permanent members Russia and China, setting the stage for the two sides to air their public grievances as they battle for international backing.
A round of negotiations brokered by Norway in recent months, aimed at peacefully resolving the crisis, has failed.
Guaido is seeking to get more countries, especially the European Union, to implement sanctions on Venezuela, as the United States has done.
Maduro, who has overseen a collapse of the OPEC nation’s once-prosperous economy and has been accused by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights of rights violations, wants to heap pressure on the United States to lift sanctions on state oil company PDVSA and members of his inner circle.
Critics say his government’s decisions this week to free a jailed opposition lawmaker and reform Venezuela’s electoral body, long accused of bias, were aimed at improving Maduro’s image before the UN gathering.
“They want to use the UN meeting to wash their face, because they are not reaching any real solutions for the Venezuelan people,” Carlos Valero, an opposition lawmaker who sits on the National Assembly’s foreign affairs committee, said in an interview on Wednesday.
Maduro calls Guaido a US puppet seeking to oust him in a coup, and blames Washington’s sanctions for Venezuela’s economic woes. Maduro himself said he will not attend the UN gathering, but he tasked two cabinet members with presenting a petition condemning the sanctions to Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
“The UN Secretary General and all the UN agencies should raise their voice to condemn the aggression Venezuela is being subjected to, to condemn the illegal blockade,” Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told reporters in Geneva last Friday. “We believe that a lot more can be done from the United Nations.”
’Until Maduro is gone’
Guaido has not yet decided whether he will attend, according to his US envoy Carlos Vecchio. Julio Borges, an exiled opposition lawmaker recently named Guaido’s chief diplomat, will be in New York for side events aimed at spotlighting Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis and Maduro’s alleged support for armed rebels in Colombia.
The events include a likely meeting of the signatories of the Rio Treaty, invoked earlier this month by a dozen members of the Organization of American States (OAS), including the United States. The treaty is a Cold War-era mutual defense pact that the countries said they had invoked in response to what they called Maduro’s threat to regional stability. The OAS, unlike the UN, recognizes Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader.
Maduro’s government denies supporting the Colombian rebels and says the Rio Treaty is a precursor to military intervention.
In April, US Vice President Mike Pence called on the UN to revoke the credentials of Maduro’s government and recognize Guaido, but Washington has taken no action to push the measure at the General Assembly. Diplomats said it was unlikely Washington would get the support needed.
Both Washington and Venezuela’s opposition are seeking to counter perceptions that their efforts to oust Maduro have stalled.
Though differences over Iran and Afghanistan policy were the main reasons for US President Donald Trump’s firing of his hawkish national security adviser John Bolton last week, Trump had also grown increasingly impatient with the failure of sanctions and diplomatic pressure to push Maduro from power.
Despite Trump’s vows that all options were on the table, he had resisted Bolton’s push for more military planning, according to a person familiar with the matter. Trump’s aides have made clear that he is likely to impose further sanctions but the economic weapons at Washington’s disposal appear to be dwindling.
US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement on Tuesday that the United States continued to stand with Guaido and that sanctions “will not be lifted until Maduro is gone.”
“We look forward to coming together with regional partners to discuss the multilateral economic and political options we can employ to the threat to the security of the region that Maduro represents,” she said.