Taliban’s brutal killing of comic actor Khasha sparks fear and loathing in Afghanistan

A screengrab from a video shows the Kandahar comic Khasha being abused by Taliban soldiers as they take him away in a car. (Social media)
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A screengrab from a video shows the Kandahar comic Khasha being abused by Taliban soldiers as they take him away in a car. (Social media)
A photo showing Kandahar comic Khasha's corpse after he was killed at the hands of Taliban members. (Social media)
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A photo showing Kandahar comic Khasha's corpse after he was killed at the hands of Taliban members. (Social media)
Afghan security personnel are on alert outside the blue mosque in Herat amid attacks by the Taliban. (Photo by Hoshang Hashimi / AFP)
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Afghan security personnel are on alert outside the blue mosque in Herat amid attacks by the Taliban. (Photo by Hoshang Hashimi / AFP)
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Updated 30 July 2021

Taliban’s brutal killing of comic actor Khasha sparks fear and loathing in Afghanistan

A photo showing Kandahar comic Khasha's corpse after he was killed at the hands of Taliban members. (Social media)
  • Taliban claims without proof the Tik-Tok prankster had abused civilians in his job as a police officer in Kandahar
  • Mistreatment and murder of comedian raises fear of deliberate targeting of artists and performers

KABUL:  Until last week, Nazar Mohammad Khasha was an obscure Afghan prankster that few had heard of beyond his village in southern Kandahar. That was before he was dragged from his home, forced into the back of a vehicle and killed by the Taliban, acts that sparked an outpouring of anger across Afghanistan.

A video circulating on social media appears to show Khasha with his hands tied behind his back, squeezed into the back seat of a car between two men, one holding an assault rifle.

One of the men twice slaps Khasha full in the face for cracking a humiliating joke — quite possibly the last he ever told. Another man outside the frame barks: “Don’t let him go … strangle him.”

A second video published on social media appears to show Khasha’s motionless body lying on the ground, having been shot multiple times. A man lifts Khasha’s head to reveal his face, recognizable by his distinctive mustache.

The videos of Khasha’s abduction and murder have flooded the internet, igniting outrage across Afghanistan and overseas over the punishment meted out by the Taliban to a man well liked for the videos of his goofball charm filmed by villagers and posted on TikTok.

Afghanistan’s Tolo News reported that the 60-year-old left behind seven children. Saad Mohseni, the Afghan-Australian chairman of Moby Group, which owns Tolo News, expressed his revulsion at the execution in one word: “Horrific.”

Khasha’s routines, in which he would crack crude jokes, perform songs and poke fun at himself, had picked up a loyal following. His killing has led to fears of the targeting of artists and performers by the ultraconservative militants, long known to be intolerant of humor and free expression.




Afghan militia fighters keep a watch at an outpost against Taliban insurgents at Charkint district in Balkh Province on July 15, 2021. (Photo by FARSHAD USYAN / AFP)

In a statement on Wednesday, Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s former president, strongly condemned “the killing of Khasha by individuals related to the Taliban” and called it an act “against all human rights acts and orders of Islam.”

Mohsin Dawar, a prominent liberal Pakistani Pashtun lawmaker, said on Twitter: “A man who brought smiles to many was killed brutally for being who he was. The world watches as the Taliban continue with their atrocities against Afghans.”

In a Facebook post, Sarwar Danesh, Afghanistan’s second vice president, described Khahsa’s killing as “a slap in the face of all people of Afghanistan ... an insult against humanity and dignity,” and a violation of “justice, knowledge and art.”

Ross Wilson, the US charge d’affaires in Kabul, also condemned the killing. “Nazar Mohammad ‘Khasha’ was a beloved comedian, bringing laughter and joy to his community even in dark times,” he tweeted.

“The Taliban kidnapped and lynched him, then gleefully published video evidence on Twitter. We condemn these sickening actions and the Taliban leadership should too.”

 

 

The Taliban may have picked on Khasha for more than just his social media antics; he was also a police officer in Kandahar and a former soldier.

The group accepted responsibility for the murder after initially denying involvement, saying Khasha was not killed for his comedy routines but for alleged abusive treatment of civilians and collaboration with US forces. It has not produced any evidence to back up that claim.

Maryam Durrani, a prominent women’s rights activist in Kandahar, told Arab News that Khasha “was not a well-known, professional artist or comedian, but a village entertainer, about whom villagers made some short videos for fun.”

If Khasha was targeted in part for perceived affiliations with departing US forces, then Afghans who acted as interpreters and translators for the Western-backed Kabul government or US-affiliated organizations since 2001 many not be able to live freely without fear of reprisal from the Taliban.

Up to 18,000 Afghans who worked for the US military have applied for Special Immigration Visas to the US in recent months in the hope of escaping Taliban retribution. There is mounting public pressure on Western governments to evacuate Afghans who worked with their forces.




Afghan families gather at a refugee camp in Kandahar after fleeing their homes amid fighting between  Taliban and government security forces on July 27, 2021. (Photo by Aved Tanveer/AFP)

Khasha served for many years as a member of a local police force in Kandahar, but information about his relationship with the community in that capacity is scarce.

Local police in Kandahar historically have a bad reputation for abuses and atrocities against civilians in their fight against militants, including attacks prompted by tribal rivalries, extortion and other crimes.

A series of older videos and images online appear to show Khasha carrying assault rifles on various occasions.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, confirmed that Khasha was arrested by the group’s fighters and killed while in its custody, but claimed that he tried to snatch a gun, adding that the incident would be investigated.

“He had served for 18 years as a commander for a post, carried arms, worked with the US and was involved in extortion and brutal acts. He was not a comedian nor an innocent person. We are also investigating why he was killed without a trial,” Mujahid told Arab News.




In the words of Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, Kandahar comic Khasha was killed when he snatched a gun from his captors. (AFP photo)

Khasha’s killing follows government allegations that the Taliban has murdered scores of people from one tribe in the Spin Boldak area of Kandahar, where the militants have made inroads since US-led forces began reducing their troop presence in May.

The Taliban denies it is committing such abuses and says it will allow an international investigation. However, reports emerging from areas overrun by the group in recent months tell a different story.

The Taliban is making rapid advances across the country, capitalizing on the final withdrawal of foreign troops — capturing districts, seizing key border crossings, and encircling provincial capitals.

As US and NATO forces leave, people within and outside Afghanistan have voiced concern about the cohesion of the country in the wake of soaring ethnic and tribal tensions, waves of troop surrenders and a weakened central government.

According to US defense officials, the Taliban has taken control of about half of the country’s districts.

In some areas the group is again introducing its harsh interpretation of Islamic rule that earned it notoriety until it was overthrown by the US-led invasion that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.




In areas controlled by the Taliban, women are required to wear burqas, with no exception. (Photo by Sajjad Hussain / AFP)

In the areas it has retaken, schools have allegedly been burned to the ground and restrictions placed on the liberties of women, akin to those imposed on communities when the group ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.

During those years, women were ordered to stay indoors unless accompanied by a male guardian, girls were banned from school, and those found guilty of crimes such as adultery were stoned to death.

Men had more freedom but were ordered not to shave their beards, would be beaten if they failed to attend prayers, and were told to only wear traditional clothing.

Afghanistan is deeply conservative and some rural pockets of the country adhere to similar rules even without Taliban oversight — but the group has tried to impose these edicts even in more modern centers.

The Taliban insist they will protect human rights — particularly those of women — but only according to “Islamic values,” which are interpreted differently across the Muslim world.

 


’Loss and pain’: Families testify at Dutch MH17 trial

Updated 15 sec ago

’Loss and pain’: Families testify at Dutch MH17 trial

’Loss and pain’: Families testify at Dutch MH17 trial
AMSTERDAM: A woman whose daughter was among 298 people who died when a Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down over Ukraine said on Friday she wanted to look the suspects in the eye and “make them feel our loss and pain.”
Relatives of the victims of flight MH17, brought down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine in 2014, denounced the “senseless and brutal” deaths of their loved ones during the trial of four suspects accused in the disaster.
Their testimony concluded three weeks of statements from 90 relatives from eight countries. They told the judges about the impact of the loss on their lives and their hopes for justice.
Prosecutor Alwin Dam said many relatives have issues with the “amount of misinformation and conspiracy theories that are spread about MH17” and the fact that no one has claimed responsibility.
The plane was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was hit by what international investigators and prosecutors say was a Russian surface-to-air missile.
Jeanne Hornikx’s daughter Astrid, 31, and Astrid’s partner Bart, 40, were among those on board.
Hornikx showed the judges a tattoo of her daughter’s fingerprint, saying “that is how she was identified.”
“I would like to look the suspects straight in the eye and make them feel our loss and pain. That our suffering becomes their suffering, that maybe grief shared — and remorse — can become grief halved,” Hornikx said.
Dutch prosecutors have brought charges against three Russians and a Ukrainian citizen, all suspected of having key roles in transporting the missile system. They went on trial for murder last year.
Two-thirds of the victims were Dutch citizens and the Netherlands blames Moscow for the attack.
Russia, which maintains that it has not funded or supported pro-Russian rebels fighting Ukrainian government troops, has refused to extradite the suspects. Only one defendant has appointed a lawyer.
The court adjourned until November with the prosecution closing statement expected on Nov. 15, judges said. A verdict will likely be handed down late next year.

Rome to host 1st International Youth Forum Against Islamophobia

Rome to host 1st International Youth Forum Against Islamophobia
Updated 24 September 2021

Rome to host 1st International Youth Forum Against Islamophobia

Rome to host 1st International Youth Forum Against Islamophobia
  • Event, co-funded by European Commission, seeks ‘more inclusive’ society, organizers tell briefing attended by Arab News
  • 65% of Italian Muslims say they have suffered violence, prejudice or discrimination: Study

ROME: The first International Youth Forum Against Islamophobia will be held this weekend in Rome.

The online forum, organized as part of the Youth Empowerment Support project, aims to raise awareness about Islamophobia so as to effectively combat it.

“Free to believe, free to think, free to be” is the title of the event, which is co-funded by the Rights, Equality and Citizenship Program of the European Commission.

The forum “aims to be a space and an opportunity for young people to discuss and think concretely about how to build a more inclusive and diverse society, free from stereotypes and discrimination, through debates, workshops and exchanges of experiences,” the organizers said at a press conference attended by Arab News.

The goal, they added, is “to create new connections between communities in Europe and to transfer knowledge” so as to help young Italians and Europeans — Muslim and non-Muslim alike — provide information and guidance on the rights of religious minorities.

At the end of the forum, a youth manifesto against Islamophobia will be approved. The event will include panels of experts with representatives from Muslim organizations, civil society, and Italian and European institutions.

Triantafillos Loukarelis, director of the European Network Against Racism, said Muslim females, “particularly if they wear religious symbols, are victims of multiple discrimination — based on gender, religion and origin — which results in verbal aggression in public, hate speech on social media and social exclusion, with difficulties in accessing the labor market and training courses.”

Islam is the second-largest religion in Italy with about 2.5 million faithful, over 1 million of them with Italian citizenship.

According to a study published recently by ENAR, 65 percent of Italian Muslims say they have suffered violence, prejudice or discrimination.


Spanish volcano remains volatile 5 days after eruption

Spanish volcano remains volatile 5 days after eruption
Updated 24 September 2021

Spanish volcano remains volatile 5 days after eruption

Spanish volcano remains volatile 5 days after eruption
  • The lava has destroyed almost 400 buildings on La Palma
  • The Spanish government will provide aid for rebuilding homes and public infrastructure

TODOQUE, Canary Islands: A volcano in Spain’s Canary Islands continued to produce explosions and spew out lava Friday, five days after it erupted, authorities said.
The lava has destroyed almost 400 buildings on La Palma, including many homes, on the western side of the island of 85,000 people, a European Union monitoring program said.
It said the lava stretches over 180 hectares (almost 20,000 square feet) and has blocked 14 kilometers (9 miles) of roads. Islanders make a living mostly from farming and tourism, and some may lose their livelihoods.
The government of La Palma Island said officials had recorded 1,130 quakes in the area over the past week as the Cumbre Vieja volcanic ridge shook with blasts of molten lava.
On a visit to La Palma, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced a package of measures to help get the island back on its feet and “rebuild lives.”
The Spanish government will provide aid for rebuilding homes and public infrastructure, such as roads, irrigation networks and schools, as well as relaunching the island’s tourism industry, Sánchez said. He did not say how much money would be made available, but said a Cabinet meeting next week would provide more details.
The blasts are sending ash up to 4500 meters (almost 15,000 feet) into the air, the Guardia Civil police force said in a tweet. Local authorities advised people to protect themselves from the ash with face masks.
Two rivers of lava continued to slide slowly down the hillside, with experts doubting whether they would cover the remaining 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) to the sea due to their slowing progress.
One of the lava flows has almost ground to a halt and a second one is moving at between 4 and 5 meters an hour, the Guardia Civil said.
Both are at least 10 meters (33 feet) high at their leading edge and are destroying houses, farmland and infrastructure in their path.
Scientists say the lava flows could last for weeks or months.
Authorities haven’t reported any casualties from the eruption. Scientists had been monitoring the volcanic activity and had warned of a possible eruption, allowing almost 7,000 people to be evacuated in time.


Drug addiction infiltrates Arab-American community

Drug addiction infiltrates Arab-American community
Updated 24 September 2021

Drug addiction infiltrates Arab-American community

Drug addiction infiltrates Arab-American community
  • Imam tells Arab News of ‘catastrophic consequences on youth’
  • Drug use in US up 61% between 2016 and 2020, with 93,000 overdose deaths last year

DEARBORN: Despite an abundance of studies and preventive efforts, drug addiction is growing more than ever in the US, including at alarming rates in the Arab-American community, leaders in Greater Detroit have told Arab News.
There were more than 70,000 overdose deaths in 2019 and 93,000 last year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Today, drug abuse among youth in particular is a high public-health concern as at least one in eight teenagers, some as young as 13, use an illicit substance. Drug use increased 61 percent between 2016 and 2020.

Half of teenagers have misused a drug at least once, and it is estimated that 43 percent of college students use illicit drugs.
 “The issue of drugs and its catastrophic consequences on the youth of the Arab-American community has become apparent to any sane person,” Imam Mardini, the imam of the American Islamic Center in the city of Dearborn, told Arab News.
 “Everyone is at risk. We’ve had cases from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and some were even from wealthy conservative families.”
 Adel Mozip, a Dearborn school board trustee, told Arab News: “Drug abuse is alive in the Detroit community, where youth lose their lives consistently due to overdoses and addiction, and Arab and Muslim students are impacted greatly.”
 Dr. Omar Reda — a board-certified psychiatrist, Harvard-trained trauma expert, author and family advocate — advised parents: “You can detect the symptoms of drug use by monitoring certain changes in children such as language, behavior, weight loss, sleep disturbance, tendency to be secretive, skin marks, or even leaving home. Some other dangerous symptoms might include delusions, hallucinations, violence, or expressing suicidal thoughts.”
 He said the main social and behavioral reasons for youth drug addiction in Arab communities are isolation — which has become worse since the coronavirus pandemic — marginalization, despair, poor family and social support, and stigma because of cultural and religious taboos.
Takween Katrous, mental wellness coordinator at the American Islamic Center, told Arab News: “Many young adults in the Arab community have self-esteem issues and can be affected by peer pressure because they’re eager to fit in, and can easily succumb to societal pressures.” 
She said there is a clear lack of emotional support from immigrant parents, including from Arab and Muslim communities, due to generational differences that lead to misunderstanding and conflict within families.
Mozip said part of the problem is related to the easy accessibility of drugs. As such, doctors and pharmacists should “stop writing prescriptions that lead to addiction, and in addition they must closely monitor their patients.”
Experts said another important factor is the stigma surrounding mental health in the Arab community, as parents prefer to hide family problems than deal with them because of perceived shame.

In this context, Mardini advises parents to pinpoint the problem and confront it courageously at an early stage. Mozip said: “Please don’t be ashamed of treating your child.”  
As for the role of the community in confronting this issue, Katrous said: “It should offer youth more recreational programs in order to make sure they’re preoccupied with activities that benefit them emotionally, physically and academically.” 
Until authorities find effective solutions to the problem, and Arab and Muslim communities acknowledge and take it more seriously, drug addiction will worsen, Arab community leaders warn.

They say local communities, religious institutions and families must work together with openness, sincerity and solidarity to save their children. 


British police arrest man over killing of London teacher

British police arrest man over killing of London teacher
Updated 24 September 2021

British police arrest man over killing of London teacher

British police arrest man over killing of London teacher
  • Nessa, 28, was found dead in Kidbrooke, southeast London on Sept. 17
  • London Mayor Sadiq Khan on Thursday described the violence against women as a national “epidemic”

LONDON: Police have arrested a 38-year-old man on suspicion of killing Sabina Nessa, a primary school teacher found dead in a London park.
Nessa’s killing — as she walked to meet a friend a few minutes from her south London home — has renewed concerns that women are not safe on the city’s streets. A vigil is due to be held in Nessa’s memory on Friday.
Nessa, 28, was found dead in Kidbrooke, southeast London on Sept. 17. Detectives believe she was attacked during what would have been a five-minute walk through a local park to meet a friend at a pub. Her body was found by a member of the public the next day. Results from a post-mortem examination carried out on Monday were inconclusive.
Late Thursday police said they had arrested a man in a nearby area of London on suspicion of murder. He has not been charged, and his name was not released.
Police also released images of another man they want to speak to as part of the investigation.
Nessa’s death came months after the murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who was abducted and killed as she walked home in south London in March. An off-duty police officer has admitted raping and killing her.
Everard’s slaying shocked the country and saw thousands take to the streets to denounce violence against women.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan on Thursday described the violence against women as a national “epidemic.” He said more than 180 women have been killed by men across England from March 2020.