Officials: Blast at Afghan mosque kills 62 during prayers

Men carry an injured person to a hospital after a bomb blast at a mosque, in Jalalabad, Afghanistan October 18, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 19 October 2019

Officials: Blast at Afghan mosque kills 62 during prayers

  • The explosion took place in Haska Mina district of eastern Nangarhar province, and wounded at least 55 people
  • The dead were “all worshippers”

KABUL, Afghanistan: An explosion rocked a mosque in eastern Afghanistan as dozens of people gathered for Friday prayers, causing the roof to collapse and killing 62 worshippers, provincial officials said. The attack underscored the record-high number of civilians dying in the country’s 18-year war.
Attahullah Khogyani, spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar Province, said the militant attack wounded 36 others. He said it was not immediately clear if the mosque was attacked by a suicide bomber or by some other type of bombing.
“Both men and children are among those killed and wounded in the attack,” he said.
Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, strongly condemned the attack on his official Twitter account. “The Afghan government strongly condemns today’s suicide attack in a mosque in Nangarhar province,” he tweeted.
“The Taliban and their partners heinous crimes continue to target civilians in time of worship,” he added.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but both the Taliban and the Daesh group are active in eastern Afghanistan, especially Nangarhar province.
However, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s spokesman in a statement condemned the attack in Nangarhar and called it a serious crime.
Zahir Adil, spokesman for the public health department in Nangarhar Province, said 23 of the wounded were transferred to Jalalabad, the provincial capital, and the rest were being treated in the Haskamena district clinic.
The spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Guterres “strongly” condemned the attack and said those responsible must be held accountable.
Amnesty International’s deputy South Asia director, Omar Waraich, said the attack “demands the world’s attention.”
“Flagrant violations of international humanitarian law such as deliberate targeting of civilians are not something anyone should get used to or learn to ignore,” he said.
The violence comes a day after a United Nations report said that Afghan civilians are dying in record numbers in the country’s increasingly brutal war, noting that more civilians died in July than in any previous one-month period since the UN began keeping statistics.
“Civilian casualties at record-high levels clearly show the need for all parties concerned to pay much more attention to protecting the civilian population, including through a review of conduct during combat operations,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan.
The report said that pro-government forces caused 2,348 civilian casualties, including 1,149 killed and 1,199 wounded, a 26% increase from the same period in 2018.
The report said 2,563 civilians were killed and 5,676 were wounded in the first nine months of this year. Insurgents were responsible for 62%. July to September were the deadliest months so far this year.
Efforts to restart talks to end Afghanistan’s 18-year war picked up earlier this month, just weeks after President Donald Trump last month declared the talks “dead,” blaming a surge in violence by the Taliban that included the killing of a US soldier.
US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad visited Pakistan and met with the Taliban’s top negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Baradar is a co-founder of the hard-line Islamic movement and was head of a Taliban delegation to the Pakistani capital.
US officials said Khalilzad was only in the Pakistani capital to follow up on talks he held in September in New York with Pakistani officials, including Prime Minister Imran Khan. They insisted he was not in Pakistan to restart US-Taliban peace talks.
In western Herat province, six civilians including four children were killed Thursday when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb, said Jelani Farhad, spokesman for the provincial governor. He added that five other civilians were wounded in the attack in the Zawal district.


Operation underway against militants near Pakistan-Iran border

Updated 58 min 13 sec ago

Operation underway against militants near Pakistan-Iran border

  • Intelligence officials, locals, insurgent spokesman confirm raids in Balochistan province
  • Raids being carried out against militants hiding in Kecch, Panjgur and Gwadar areas

DUBAI/KARACHI: A major intelligence-based operation is ongoing against militants hiding near Pakistan’s border with Iran in the southwestern Balochistan province, Pakistani intelligence officials and local witnesses said, in the latest attempt to combat violence on the 900-km shared frontier.

Over the years, Iran and Pakistan have accused each other of not doing enough to stamp out militants allegedly sheltering across the border.

In the most recent attack that has caused friction between the two nations, six Pakistani security personnel were killed in a bomb attack on a paramilitary Frontier Corps vehicle, the army’s media wing said on May 19. Six Pakistani soldiers were also killed in a roadside bomb attack in Balochistan on May 8.

Several militant groups are active in Balochistan, Pakistan’s biggest but poorest province. Much of the violence in the past has been blamed on, or claimed by, ethnic Baloch separatists.

Baloch Khan, a spokesperson for Baloch Raaji Ajoi Sangar (BRAS), an umbrella group of Baloch insurgent groups, confirmed in a media statement last month that a “Pakistan army operation” was ongoing and soldiers were surrounding and raiding remote villages. However, he said no commanders or fighters of BRAS had been killed in the attacks.

An intelligence official who declined to be named told Arab News that it is called the Ground Zero Clearance Operation.

Two additional intelligence officials confirmed that an operation is ongoing. Two local witnesses in the Mand area of Kech district also confirmed “actions” in their area.

In a Twitter post on May 23, a pro-government politician from Balochistan, Nawabzada Jamal Khan Raisani, said the Pakistani military had launched “a sweeping operation” against the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) along the border with Iran.

Both groups are part of BRAS, along with the Baloch Republican Army and the Baloch Republican Guards.

“The action began (on May 21) with a string of terrorists neutralized and hideouts busted,” Raisani said.

He told Arab News that a senior BLF commander, Abdul Hameed (alias Ghazin Baloch), was among two dozen militants killed in the ongoing operation, which he said was led by Pakistani soldiers and intelligence officers.

The media wing of the Pakistani military and the Foreign Office declined a request by Arab News for comment.

Ijaz Ahmed Shah, the federal interior minister, said his team would respond to emailed questions, but no reply had been received until the time of press. 

Balochistan Home Minister Mir Zia Ullah Langove did not respond to specific questions about the operation “for security reasons,” but said: “We have taken effective actions.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media on the issue, one intelligence officer based in the city of Turbat said a “bank of targets” had been gathered by officials over many weeks, and raids are now being carried out in several areas, particularly against militants hiding in the border areas of Kecch, Panjgur and Gwadar.

Pakistan began fencing its 900-km border with Iran in May last year, which had become a source of “frustration” for militants, the intelligence official said, leading them to plan more attacks.

Last month, Pakistan’s military chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa spoke to his Iranian counterpart Maj. Gen. Mohammed Bagheri via telephone.

They discussed border fencing, the improvement of border terminals, enhancing security and recent attacks on Pakistani troops near the border, among other issues, according to a statement from the Pakistani Army’s media wing.

On April 20 last year, just days after militants killed 14 bus passengers in an attack along the border with Iran, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the insurgents behind the attack were based in Iran, calling on Tehran to take action. The attack had been claimed by BRAS.

“The training camps and logistical camps of this new alliance (BRAS) ... are inside the Iranian border region,” Qureshi told reporters in Islamabad. Iran denied any state involvement.

Just days after Qureshi’s comments, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said during a televised news conference with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was visiting Tehran, that the two nations would form a joint quick reaction force to combat militant activity on their shared border.

“We agreed to increase the security cooperation of the two countries, our border forces, our intelligence forces, and also to form a joint quick reaction force on the border of the two countries for fighting terrorism,” Rouhani said.

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