Militant attack on Afghan prison frees hundreds

Afghan security personnel in front of a prison gate after an attack by Daesh that had freed hundreds in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, on Monday. (AP)
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Updated 04 August 2020

Militant attack on Afghan prison frees hundreds

  • The attack, reportedly by Daesh, took place hours before end of cease-fire

KABUL: Militants affiliated with the Daesh group stormed a prison in eastern Afghanistan in a daylong siege that left at least 39 people dead, including the assailants, and freed nearly 400 of their fighters before security forces restored order, a government official said Monday.

The attack on the main prison in Jalalabad, in Nangarhar province, where several hundred Daesh fighters have been detained, began on Sunday afternoon with a car bomb detonated at the entrance to the jail.

The attack came hours before the end of a three-day ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban, who immediately denied any involvement in the assault. Several Western media outlets reported that the Daesh had claimed responsibility.

The Nangarhar governor’s spokesman, Attaullah Khogyani, told Arab News that there was still gunfire on Monday morning, and that more than 20 civilians and personnel and three attackers have died in the fighting.

Two local security sources speaking on condition of anonymity said that nearly half of the prison’s 1,500 inmates managed to flee.

They said 20 assailants made their way into the prison and a number of explosions were heard from inside the jail.Residents said one group of attackers was firing on the jail from a nearby building and they reported heavy and sustained exchanges of small fire.

According to Khogyani, most of the escapees have been caught. He gave no further details about the attack.

The assault comes amid official claims that Daesh leaders have been arrested or killed in recent months, notably in Nangarhar, which used to be the group’s bastion.

“This is a major embarrassment for the government, which every now and then claims to have wiped out or paralyzed the Daesh. The government needs to answer why such a high security lapse has happened,” analyst Shafiq Haqpal said.

The Eid Al-Adha ceasefire between the Taliban and Afghan government forces was a part of efforts to begin long-awaited peace talks following a US-Taliban agreement signed in Qatar in late February.

In accordance with the deal, the Taliban is releasing 1,000 Afghan troops in exchange for 5,000 militants held by President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

The process is near completion, but Kabul is refusing to free 400 remaining Taliban inmates, saying they have been behind “heinous crimes.”

After Eid prayers on Sunday, Ghani announced he would summon a traditional grand assembly, Loya Jirga, to help him decide whether the rest of Taliban prisoners should be freed.

The assembly is scheduled to start on Aug. 7. Loya Jirga has deep roots in Afghan history and tradition and is usually summoned during times of crisis or emergency.

The Taliban have voiced their opposition to the convocation of the jirga. Their Qatar-based spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told TOLO News that Kabul’s decision would only complicate the peace process.

Afghan politicians are divided on the jirga announcement. Hamidullah Tokhi, a member of parliament from southern Zabul province, said: “The nation and parliament have deep doubts about Ghani’s goal for summoning the jirga to decide over the fate of 400 Taliban.

“All of the 4,500 Taliban already freed were involved in some sort of bloody attacks. Why did the government not ask for the jirga on the overall release of the Taliban?”

“Summoning the jirga now is a treason to this country and a clear blocking of the peace process,” he said.
Torek Farhadi, who served in the previous government as an adviser, said Ghani hopes that the victory of Democrats in the upcoming US elections, would sideline Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan who struck the Qatar deal with the Taliban, allowing Kabul to be in charge of the peace process.
“We should have one Loya Jirga to discuss substantive matters on peace with the Taliban and the type of future regime,” Farhadi said, adding that the Taliban, too, should participate in the assembly. “This meeting would be like a half-baked national dialogue (if it is) conducted by only one side of the conflict.”


US accuses Hezbollah of storing explosive chemical in Europe

Updated 18 September 2020

US accuses Hezbollah of storing explosive chemical in Europe

  • Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound commonly used as a fertilizer, but it can be used to make explosives
  • It can also be dangerous in storage, as demonstrated by the huge explosion last month in Beirut

WASHINGTON: Militant group Hezbollah has stored chemicals that can be used to make explosives in several European countries, a senior State Department official said Thursday as he appealed to countries in Europe and elsewhere to impose bans on the organization.
Hezbollah operatives have moved ammonium nitrate from Belgium to France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Switzerland in recent years and are suspected to still be storing the material throughout Europe, said Nathan Sales, the State Department coordinator for counter-terrorism.
Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound commonly used as a fertilizer, but it can be used to make explosives. It can also be dangerous in storage, as demonstrated by the huge explosion last month in the Lebanese capital of Beirut.
Sales, without offering evidence, said the U.S. believes that Iran-backed Hezbollah has since 2012 transported ammonium nitrate around Europe in first aid kits with cold packs that contain the compound. The United States believes these supplies are still in place throughout Europe, possibly in Greece, Italy and Spain.
“Why would Hezbollah stockpile ammonium nitrate on European soil?" he said. “The answer is clear: Hezbollah put these weapons in place so it could conduct major terrorist attacks whenever it or its masters in Tehran deemed necessary."
Sales made the remarks in an online forum hosted by the American Jewish Committee, which has called upon more countries to ban Hezbollah and its operations.
The US has designated Hezbollah as a foreign terrorist organization since 1997, but some countries distinguish between the organization's military wing and the political wing.
The EU lists Iran-backed Hezbollah’s military wing as a banned terrorist group, but not its political wing, which has been part of Lebanese governments in recent years. Some individual countries, including Germany and the UK, have outlawed the group in its entirety. Sales called on more countries to do the same.
Hezbollah is a “unitary organization that cannot be subdivided into a military and so-called political wing," he said. Without a full ban, the group can still raise money and recruit operatives. “Hezbollah is one organization," he said. "It is a terrorist organization.”