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Terror Strikes Kabul: 80 killed, 230 wounded in ISIS suicide bombing

The United Nations, Pakistan’s foreign ministry and the U.S. embassy in Kabul each released statements condemning the attack

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An Afghan woman weeps at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan July 23, 2016. Image source: Reuters
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  • The attack occurred as thousands of ethnic Hazaras marched through the streets
  • A website linked to the Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility for the violence
  • An Afghan interior ministry statement says three suicide bombers assaulted the peaceful demonstrators

The Islamic State terror group claimed credit for a bomb attack in Kabul Saturday, July 23, that killed at least 80 people and wounded hundreds of others during a mass protest rally.

A website linked to the Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility for the violence. A statement said the attack was meant to warn Afghanistan’s ethnic Hazaras, who are mostly Shiite, to stop joining the Syrian government in its fight against the terror group.

An Afghan interior ministry statement says three suicide bombers assaulted the peaceful demonstrators. It said one of them detonated his device among the protesters, one mistakenly killed only himself while a third was shot dead by security forces guarding the rally.

The attack occurred as thousands of ethnic Hazaras marched through the streets to demand a planned power line be rerouted through their poverty-stricken central province of Bamiyan.

Rights groups and analysts have accused Iran of covertly recruiting and training men from nearly three million Afghan refugees it hosts, including around one million registered refugees, and sending them to Syria to fight alongside government forces.

Ahead of Saturday’s rally in Kabul, authorities had blocked main roads to prevent protesters from reaching the city’s centre or the presidential palace. The measures severely restricted movement, forcing shops and businesses to close. It also hampered the ability of rescue workers to reach victims of the attack.

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President Ashraf Ghani condemned the violence as the work of “terrorists and opportunists”, saying the government put in place measures to provide security for the protesters.

“But terrorists entered the protests, and carried out explosions that martyred and wounded a number of citizens including members of security and defence forces,” he said.

Addressing a gathering in the palace, later in the evening of mainly Hazara leaders, Ghani vowed to bring those responsible to justice and declared Sunday as a national mourning day to offer special prayers for the victims in the mosques.

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“I gave orders for the formation of a special commission to be headed by the country’s attorney general that will include government and non-government personalities for the comprehensive investigations of the incident. Anyone found guilty in the government or outside the government will be punished,” the Afghan president said in his live televised speech.

Thousands of demonstrators march towards the center of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, July 23, 2016. Image source: AP
Thousands of demonstrators march towards the center of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, July 23, 2016. Image source: AP

The United Nations, Pakistan’s foreign ministry and the U.S. embassy in Kabul each released statements condemning the attack.

“This attack is particularly heinous because it targeted civilians as they exercised their rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. He reiterated an attack deliberately targeting a large, concentrated group of civilians amounts to a war crime.

Amnesty International said the bombing of a peaceful protest demonstrated “the utter disregard that armed groups have for human life.”

In May, the Hazara community organised a similar mass demonstration against the current route of the multi-million-dollar regional electricity line involving Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The original plan was to route the so-called TUTAP line through Bamiyan, a mostly Hazara region. (VOA)

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Emergence of Radical Political Groups Raises Concern in Pakistan

Concerns are being voiced about how a few radical groups with proven terror ties have been allowed to re-brand themselves as political parties.

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Rising concerns in Pakistan regarding radical terrorist groups establishing themselves as political parties. VOA
Rising concerns in Pakistan regarding radical terrorist groups establishing themselves as political parties. VOA
  • Tension in Pakistan increasing due to emergence of Radical Political Groups.
  • Extremist groups are gaining a footing in Country’s politics.
  • According to reports, goverment’s efforts are not enough to stop the emerging radicalism in Pakistan.

Concerns are being voiced in Pakistan about how a few radical groups with proven terror ties have been allowed to re-brand themselves as political parties.

Taj Haider, one of the prominent and founding members of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which has been in power five times since 1970, told VOA the country is again seeing the trend of extremist groups camouflaging themselves to enter into politics.

“Religion and politics cannot go hand in hand, but unfortunately this is our new reality. We have seen the recent by-elections in Lahore and Peshawar where militant-turned-political parties were able to mobilize people and gather votes,” Haider said. “And these so-called new political parties, with proven terror records, look determined to contest the upcoming elections in 2018.”

In a recent high-level party meeting presided by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of Pakistan’s slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the government was sharply criticized on its inability to forcefully implement the National Action Plan and bar proscribed groups from entering the political sphere.

The National Action Plan is a 20-point strategy devised to combat extremism in 2015 that clearly states no banned groups can operate in the country by changing their names or identity.

Analysts say many other political parties are also agitated and wary about the recent political dynamic that has allowed radicalized groups to enter the political arena.

“The government has repeatedly said it will not allow the hardliners to enter into politics, but the reality is different, these parties are going into masses,” Rasul Baksh Raees, a prominent analyst from Pakistan told VOA.

“As long as these proscribed groups stick to their extreme ideologies and violence, they will be a danger to the society and democracy itself.”

Hafiz Saeed
Hafiz Saeed, head of the Pakistani religious party. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

PPP’s acute criticism came as Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), inaugurated the office of his newly launched political party Milli Muslim League (MML) in the eastern city of Lahore.

Pakistan’s Election Commission rejected MML’s party registration application in October, citing its link to Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a U.S. designated terror-sponsoring organization.

But MML looks determined to contest the upcoming state and provincial elections. The party has several offices, has launched a website, and has a social media team spreading its messages through Facebook and Twitter.

Pakistan’s government has repeatedly emphasized it will not tolerate any political party with a proven record of promoting violence and terrorism to use democracy and political means to spread their extreme ideologies.

But critics still say the government is not doing enough to stop radical groups from entering politics.

“Look what happened in Lahore’s recent by-election and who can forget the power show by extremists on the roads of Islamabad. The government was totally helpless,” Raees said.

During the Lahore election in September, a MML backed independent candidate secured the fourth position in the race. The by-election was also contested by Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TeL), another extremist religious party created to carry-on Mumtaz Qadri’s mission, the bodyguard who killed Punjab’s Governor Salman Taseer in 2011 after he had demanded reforms in the controversial blasphemy law. Mumtaz Qadri was later sentenced to death.

Islamic Extremists
Supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik party (VOA)

In November, thousands of followers of the Islamist group Tehreek-e-Labaik blocked Islamabad roads for weeks and demanded the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid, after accusing him of blasphemy. The government eventually surrendered to hardliners’ demands after Pakistan’s military played the role of mediator.

The experts say the emerging trend of politicizing militancy is a danger to democracy. They also point out the sectarian and hardline rationale will further complicate the situation in the country that has been trying to combat terrorism for more than a decade.

“Imagine when these hardliners, through political parties, will spread their extreme views on the grassroots level. What will be the future of this country?” Raees said.

But some politicians dismiss the blending of radicalized groups into politics. Haider believes the people of Pakistan can differentiate between politicians and extremists and will not allow militant-turned-politicians to thrive.

“If you look at the past, the religious parties including the Jamaat-i-Islami [an old religious party], despite having a huge following, were never able to clean sweep or get majority in the electoral process of the country,” said Haider.

“Even now, with all these efforts, I believe Milli Muslim League or Tehreek-e-Labaik will not be able to pull large numbers during the general elections. Religious or sectarian votes are scattered in the country and can’t be unified and will not help these newly established political parties to win a prominent number of seats.” VOA