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Afghan students attend school classes in an open-air primary school on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA
  • The Islamic State militant group has been threatening students and insisting that teachers must amend their curriculum
  • A girl’s high school was among the destruction by IS militants during the past 10 days in the Darzab district
  • According to provincial education officials, IS militants said an educational curriculum acceptable to Islamic State must be taught in areas that the group controls

Washington, July 4, 2017: The Islamic State militant group has destroyed more than a dozen schools in a restive district of northern Afghanistan, threatening students and insisting that teachers must amend their curriculum, provincial officials said.

Abul Rahman Mahmoodi, the acting governor of northern Jawzjan province, told VOA that a girl’s high school was among the destruction by IS militants during the past 10 days in the Darzab district.

“I wish they had a proper curriculum. Based on our information, [the militants] do not have anything to offer,” Mahmoodi said. “They burned down a female high school entirely and plundered other schools in the area, taking their desks and chairs with them after destroying the infrastructure.”

According to provincial education officials, IS militants said an educational curriculum acceptable to Islamic State must be taught in areas that the group controls.

ALSO READ: Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

Girls forbidden to attend school

A local resident who did not want to disclose his name for safety reasons told VOA that IS militants warned girls not to attend school. They make up 40 percent of the 18,000 enrolled students in the district’s 47 government-run schools, which are currently closed for summer holidays.

Abdul Hai Yesheen, Jawzjan province’s education chief, told VOA the IS militants destroyed biology labs inside the schools. Islamic State adherents say they consider study of the human skeleton to be a form of polytheism.

IS and rival militants from the Taliban have clashed fiercely in a fight for control of Darzab, and Baz Mohammad Dawar, acting chief of the district, said 10 Taliban militants were beheaded after they were captured by IS fighters last week.

Islamic State and Taliban fighters streamed into Darzab last month from two directions, and scores of Afghan government forces in the area were under siege until counter-strikes by Afghan and U.S. forces took effect. The center of the district was held by the Taliban, with IS militants controlling areas outside Darzab’s center, but local officials said both groups subsequently were driven out by the combined Afghan and U.S. effort.

Airstrikes kill 7 IS commanders

Airstrikes carried out by U.S. unmanned aircraft, or drones, have killed at least seven IS commanders during the past two weeks, the local officials said.

Two IS commanders who were known as ruthless for the many beheadings they carried out reportedly were killed on Sunday in Darzab. Another five commanders, including the deputy IS leader in the province, were killed last week in neighboring Qoshtaipa district.

IS militants have been most active in eastern parts of Afghanistan until recently, but the extremists have been trying to establish a permanent presence in several of the country’s northern provinces.

Another source in the region who asked not to be identified told VOA that IS has been recruiting unemployed youths between the ages of 13 and 20 to join its forces. The militants are said to have recruited hundreds of fighters from Jawzjan and neighboring Sar-e-Pul province, where several districts are controlled by Islamic State or its affiliated groups.

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban commander who switched his allegiance to Islamic State a year ago, is said to lead IS-affiliated groups in the region, and is credited with the recruitment of about 500 fighters in his new role. A large number of Central Asian fighters affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan, have joined the IS cause in the northern provinces. (VOA)



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Milky Way galaxy as seen from Chitkul Valley

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has for the first time spotted signs of a planet transiting a star outside of the Milky Way galaxy, opening up a new avenue to search for exoplanets at greater distances than ever before.

The possible exoplanet -- or planets outside of our Solar System -- candidate is located in the spiral galaxy Messier 51 (M51), also called the Whirlpool Galaxy because of its distinctive profile, NASA said in a statement.

Astronomers have, so far, found all other known exoplanets and exoplanet candidates in the Milky Way galaxy, almost all of them less than about 3,000 light-years from Earth.

An exoplanet in M51 would be about 28 million light-years away, meaning it would be thousands of times farther away than those in the Milky Way, NASA said.

"We are trying to open up a whole new arena for finding other worlds by searching for planet candidates at X-ray wavelengths, a strategy that makes it possible to discover them in other galaxies," said Rosanne Di Stefano of the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard and Smithsonian (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who led the study.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

The exoplanet candidate was spotted in a binary system called M51-ULS-1, located in M51. This binary system contains a black hole or neutron star orbiting a companion star with a mass about 20 times that of the Sun. The X-ray transit they found using Chandra data lasted about three hours, during which the X-ray emission decreased to zero.

Based on this and other information, the team estimates the exoplanet candidate in M51-ULS-1 would be roughly the size of Saturn and orbit the neutron star or black hole at about twice the distance of Saturn from the Sun.

The team looked for X-ray transits in three galaxies beyond the Milky Way galaxy, using both Chandra and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton. Their search covered 55 systems in M51, 64 systems in Messier 101 (the "Pinwheel" galaxy), and 119 systems in Messier 104 (the "Sombrero" galaxy).

However, more data would be needed to verify the interpretation as an extragalactic exoplanet. One challenge is that the planet candidate's large orbit means it would not cross in front of its binary partner again for about 70 years, thwarting any attempts for a confirming observation for decades, NASA said.

Named in honor of the late Indian-American Nobel laureate, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, the Chandra X-ray Observatory is the world's most powerful X-ray telescope. It has eight times greater resolution and is able to detect sources more than 20-times fainter than any previous X-ray telescope.

Known to the world as Chandra (which means "moon" or "luminous" in Sanskrit), Chandrasekhar was widely regarded as one of the foremost astrophysicists of the twentieth century. (IANS/JB)

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