More than 20 dead in Afghan attacks ahead of planned peace talks

More than 20 people, including civilians and police, died in separate attacks in Afghanistan, officials said on Saturday. (File/AFP)
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Updated 13 June 2020

More than 20 dead in Afghan attacks ahead of planned peace talks

  • A police official blamed the Taliban for the attack
  • On Friday, a bomb explosion inside a mosque in Kabul, killed at least four people

KABUL: More than 20 people, including civilians and police, died in separate attacks in Afghanistan, officials said on Saturday, days ahead of the first round of crucial intra-Afghan talks on June 15 aimed at finding ways to end a protracted war in the country.

In one of the attacks, a group of Taliban insurgents stormed a police post overnight and killed 10 officers in an area of the central Ghor province, Atta Mohammad Dehqanpur, a lawmaker from the province told Arab News.

“The Taliban were armed with small and heavy weapons and opened fire as some of the police were asleep,” Dehqanpur said.

Interior Ministry spokesman in Kabul, Tariq Aryan, confirmed the reports but told Arab News that there was no specific number of casualties.

“We have had contradictory figures on deaths. The Taliban had attacked the police post, and both sides have suffered casualties,” he said.

In the second attack, a commander for one of the factions, Abdul Wali Ekhlas, and seven of his friends were gunned down in an ambush in the southeastern Khost province, a spokesman for Khost’s police, Adel Haidar, told reporters in a message.

The motive behind the overnight attack against Ekhlas was not immediately clear, Aryan said.

In the third incident, which also took place last night, a woman and three members of her family were killed by unknown gunmen at their home in Logar province, which lies to the south of Kabul.

The Taliban, whose delegates are set to initiate peace talks with politicians, including members of President Ashraf Ghani’s government in the coming days, has not commented on the attacks. However, officials have not blamed the Taliban for the Khost and Logar violence.

Earlier on Saturday, a spokesman for Ghani’s national security adviser, Javid Faisal, accused the Taliban of killing 89 civilians and wounding 150 others in the past two weeks alone.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, described Faisal’s comments as “propaganda of the enemy” and instead blamed Kabul for killing civilians in its attack.

Despite efforts from both sides to initiate talks in the coming days, Taliban fighters and government forces have conducted attacks against each other in recent months, and affiliates of Daesh have also unleashed a series of attacks.

Daesh accepted responsibility for a bomb explosion, which occurred on Friday inside a mosque in the capital, Kabul, killing at least four worshippers, including the prayer leader.

It followed the killing of another prominent cleric in another mosque in Kabul some 10 days ago, in an attack also claimed by Daesh.

Unlike the past attacks perpetrated by Daesh, which mostly targeted Shiite mosques, both the clerics were Sunnis.

Observers believe that even if the Taliban and Kabul reach a settlement, peace will not be completely restored in Afghanistan and Daesh’s followers may continue their attacks.

“The overnight attacks may not have much impact on the talks and we do not know if all of them were conducted by the Taliban,” Shafiq Haqpal, an analyst, told Arab News.

“Both sides seem ready to initiate the talks and even if they succeed that may not be the end of the war in Afghanistan as Daesh is still active here,” he said.

The Taliban and the US inked a historical deal in Qatar at the end of February this year which pushes for a total withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by next spring, with the Taliban pledging to cut ties with Al- Qaeda and other militants and not allow them to use their territory against any country, including US interests.

The government and the Taliban have exchanged prisoners in recent weeks, a condition set by the Taliban ahead of starting talks with Kabul.

Afghan officials in recent days have said that the first round of talks with the Taliban might happen online because of the coronavirus outbreak, or that they will possibly meet face-to-face in Qatar.


Six French citizens among eight killed by gunmen in Niger

Updated 9 min 37 sec ago

Six French citizens among eight killed by gunmen in Niger

  • It is believed to be the first such attack on Westerners in Koure, an area of southwestern Niger

KOURE: Six French citizens and their local guide and driver were killed Sunday by gunmen riding motorcycles in an area of southwestern Niger home to the last West African giraffes, officials said.
It is believed to be the first such attack on Westerners in the area, a popular tourist attraction in the former French colony thanks to its unique population of West African or Niger giraffes.
“There are eight dead: two Nigeriens including a guide and a driver, while the other six are French,” the governor of the Tillaberi region told AFP.
“We are managing the situation, we will give more information later,” Tidjani Ibrahim Katiella said, without indicating who was behind the attack.
France’s presidency confirmed that French citizens had been killed in Niger, without giving the number of dead.
A source close to Niger’s environmental services said the assault took place at around 11:30 am (1030 GMT) six kilometers (four miles) east of the town of Koure, which is an hour’s drive from the capital Niamey.
“Most of the victims were shot... We found a magazine emptied of its cartridges at the scene,” the source told AFP.
“We do not know the identity of the attackers but they came on motorcycles through the bush and waited for the arrival” of the group.
The source added that the victims’ vehicle belonged to the French humanitarian organization ACTED.
The source also described the scene of the attack, where bodies were laid side-by-side next to a torched vehicle, which had bullet holes in its rear window.
In Paris, a spokesman for the French army said France’s Barkhane force, which fights extremists in the Sahel region, had provided support to Niger’s forces.
An AFP reporter at the scene of confirmed that French fighter jets flew overhead later Sunday as Niger’s army searched the vast wooded area.
Forensic police were collecting samples ahead of the bodies being moved before night fell, the reporter added.
The office of French President Emmanuel Macron said he spoke on the phone with his Niger counterpart Mahamadou Issoufou.
Neighbouring Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita meanwhile strongly condemned the “barbaric act.”
He lamented that “violent extremism” was still rife in the Sahel region “despite the merciless war waged by national armies, the G5 Sahel joint forces and the Barkhane force.”
Around 20 years ago, a small herd of West African giraffes, a subspecies distinguished by its lighter color, found a safe haven from poachers and predators in the Koure area.
Today they number in their hundreds and are a key tourist attraction, enjoying the protection of local people and conservation groups.
A Western humanitarian source based in Niamey said “we all go to Koure on weekend outings because it’s very easy to access.”
“Everyone goes there, even ambassadors, diplomats, teachers... it is not considered a dangerous zone at all. There are NGOs protecting giraffes there,” the source told AFP.
However the Tillaberi region is in a hugely unstable location, near the borders of Mali and Burkina Faso.
The region has become a hideout for Sahel extremist groups such as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).
The use of motorcycles has been totally banned since January in an attempt to curb the movements of such extremists.
Numerous Europeans have been abducted or killed in the volatile Sahel.
Two young Frenchmen, Antoine De Leocour and Vincent Delory, were killed after being kidnapped by extremists from a restaurant in Niger’s capital Niamey in 2011.