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Militants abduct official in Meghalaya

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Shillong: Militants have abducted a Block Development Officer of Chokpot region in Meghalaya on Wednesday.

Block Development Officer Jude Rangku T. Sangma was kidnapped by Garo National Liberation Army militants on Tuesday from a remote area in South Garo Hills district, an officer said.

Inspector General of Police F.D. Sangma told IANS over phone that the official was abducted at gun point around 5.30 p.m. from Diganggre while he was on his way to Tura, the district headquarters of West Garo Hills.

He said the Meghalaya Civil Service officer was posted in Chokpot block, a militant hub, for more than two years.

In the past, Sangma received several threats and extortion demands from the GNLA but he did not pay heed to the threats.

Tuesday’s incident comes close on the heels of the recovery of the body of an Intelligence Bureau officer, Bikash Singh Kumar, and a cloth merchant, Kamala Saha, after they were kidnapped and murdered by A’chik Songna An’pachakgipa Kotok militants.

One of Sangma’s family members, who did not wish to be named, told IANS that the family has not received any ransom call.

The GNLA had earlier slapped extortion demands ranging from Rs.5 lakh to Rs.1 crore on petrol pump owners, coal dealers and businessmen in the coal-rich districts of Garo Hills.

The GNLA is fighting for a separate Garoland in the western part of Meghalaya.

(IANS)

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Terror Has a New Name : Former al-Qaida Members Launch New Militant Group ‘Ansar al-Sharia Pakistan’

Inspired by Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida’s slain founder, the group has vowed to continue its struggle through “jihad” against “infidel and apostates”

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al-Qaida
A Pakistani militant holds a rocket-propelled grenade in Shawal, in Pakistan's tribal region of Waziristan,

Karachi, September 11, 2017 : A new al-Qaida-inspired militant group, which has recently emerged in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi claims to act as a platform for militants who have grown disaffected with the Islamic State militant group (IS) in the country.

The group, Ansar al-Sharia Pakistan, was reportedly formed by two former al-Qaida members who had severed ties with the organization in early 2017. Since then, the group has been involved in several attacks in Karachi, according to Pakistani counterterrorism authorities.

“The Ansar al-Sharia group started killings in Karachi since the beginning of this year and claimed responsibility for killing an army officer on Faisal Highway [in Karachi],” Major General Mohammad Saeed, the head of Rangers paramilitary security force in Karachi, told local media. He added the group has been focusing attacks on “the police only.”

The group was allegedly created to operate as a platform for militants who have parted ways with IS in the country, it said in an online statement. It claimed to be active in several parts of the country.

“We give glad tidings to Muslim Ummah that a large number of Mujahideen from Karachi, Punjab and tribal areas are leaving ranks of IS and announce disassociation with [it],” the group said in an announcement through a Twitter account, adding that IS has “spread differences” and “secession instead of unity.”

The group has vowed to continue its struggle through “jihad” against “infidel and apostates.”

Though the newly-emerged group asserts no official affiliation with al-Qaida and other foreign militant organizations, the group said its ideology is inspired by Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida’s slain founder.

VOA was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the Twitter account.

According to the counterterrorism department of Karachi police, Ansar al-Sharia has a presence in areas between Sindh and Baluchistan provinces.

“Unfortunately, according to the names that have come up in the investigation, their kill team has three young men who have masters [degrees] in applied physics,” Maj. Gen. Saeed said.

Pakistani media reported the terror outfit also has female members. Police have reportedly arrested four women, including a doctor, suspected of membership in the group.

Pakistani authorities have vowed action to seize members of the group in the country, including in Karachi.

ALSO READ Study shows that Islamic State terror cells in Europe are led by former al-Qaida terrorists

A police officer has reportedly been arrested for links with an alleged Ansar-al-Sharia member in Karachi, Pakistani media reported.

Al-Qaida’s branch in South Asia, known as al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), has been active in the region. Several militant groups in Pakistan that had an ideological association with bin Laden’s al-Qaida, have pledged allegiance to AQIS.

Much of AQIS’s power is concentrated in Karachi and IS has also claimed presence in in Pakistan’s largest city. (VOA)

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Displaced Villagers Return to Old Mosul Only to Find Destruction, Danger and Dead Bodies; Returnees Claim ‘Even Soldiers Stay Indoors After Dark’

The wreckage from a few of the destroyed homes has been cleared away as a handful villagers visit their homes in Old Mosul, which has been completely destroyed following a battle against the ISIS

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Abd Elaam is one of the only people living in the Old Mosul in Iraq, where the destruction has been compared to World War II Dresden, Aug. 27, 2017.
  • Old Mosul has been completely shattered in the battle to recapture the city from Islamic State militants
  • About 900,000 people have been displaced by the battle for Mosul, and many neighborhoods have been completely destroyed by war
  • Areas around the village are slowly being re-populated, but many places are entirely without services like trash collection, electricity, and running water

Mosul, September 5, 2017 : “All you can hear at night is the sound of broken doors flapping in the wind,” says Abd Elaam, a 50-year-old furniture maker. “Even soldiers stay indoors after dark.”

Elaam is currently one of the very few civilians living in Old Mosul, an ancient neighborhood shattered by the battle to recapture the city from Islamic State militants. Like many families that survived IS rule, he says, his resources are completely exhausted by the war and he has nowhere else to go.

Other families trickle in by day, looking to repair their broken homes or recover the bodies of their dead loved ones. But even during daylight hours, the neighborhood is dangerous, riddled with bombs and an unknown number of militants hiding out in the vast network of tunnels under the tightly-packed buildings and piles of rubble. The level of destruction has been compared to World War II Dresden.

 

Old Mosul
About 900,000 people have been displaced by the battle for Mosul, and many neighborhoods like Mosul’s Old City have been completely destroyed by the war, July 9, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)

“A IS militant came out of one those houses two weeks ago,” Elaam says, gesturing towards another dusty, broken street. “He blew himself up near two families. They were all injured and the bomber was cut in half.”

The militant’s body, like other fallen IS fighters in Old Mosul, was shoved under the rubble to reduce the smell of rot in the 45 degree-plus weather. When Iraq declared victory over IS in early July, the bodies of dead militants lay scattered in buildings and on the streets of nearly every block. Authorities searched through giant piles of concrete, once homes, for the remains of civilian families. But, they said, the only government department responsible for the IS bodies was garbage collection.

 

Old Mosul
Bodies of IS fighters lie in the rubble of Old Mosul on nearly every block, while the bodies of families killed in airstrikes have to be dug out from under the demolished buildings in Mosul, Iraq, July 9, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)

Old Mosul is far from re-establishing city services like trash pickup. There is no running water, electricity or businesses open. Yet other families are following Elaam’s lead, and plan to return to their homes as soon as possible.

“In a few days I will move back and bring my family,” says Ghanem Younis, 72, resting on a beige plastic chair in a sliver of shade. “If they provide electricity and water, everyone would come back.”

Younger men and children squat around Ghanem, recalling the isolation of the final months of the battle that began late last year. “We couldn’t go more than 50 meters from our front doors,” says Sufian, a 27-year-old unemployed construction worker. “We spent our time sitting right here with Uncle Ghanem.”

 

Old Mosul
Residents of Old Mosul say homes left standing after months of heavy fighting are often ransacked as soldiers search for bombs and IS fighters hiding in tunnels under the city. (VOA)

But it is not sentiment driving some families home despite the dangers, adds Elaam, as more neighbors join the conversation.

“People cannot stay with friends and relatives forever,” he says. Camps for those displaced are also crowded. “No one has anywhere else to go,” he adds.

Airstrike Damage

A few blocks away, outside the checkpoints that cut off the Old City, the Zanjelli neighborhood is slowly being repopulated.

Old Mosul
Areas around Old Mosul are slowly being re-populated, but many places are entirely without electricity, running water and other city services, like trash collection. (VOA)

 

Construction workers build a market to replace one destroyed in airstrikes, while the owners of what was once a shoe store paint the shelves, hoping to re-open in the coming weeks. The wreckage from a few of the destroyed homes has been cleared away, and the bodies of many of the dead are now buried in graveyards.

In less than five minutes of conversation, at least three people tell us about family members, including toddlers, killed in airstrikes in the last months of battle.

“There was an IS sniper firing from next to my house and the airstrike hit us,” says Youseff Hussain, 35. “Fifteen members of my family were killed.”

 

Old Mosul
Iraqi search parties looking for survivors and the remains of dead civilians in Old Mosul. (VOA)

Rebuilding the neighborhood, adds Hussain, is made doubly frustrating by the fact that it was Iraq’s allies, including the United States, who destroyed many of their homes as they battled IS from the air.

Many locals say the sacrifice of property and lives may have been necessary to prevent the city, then under siege, from total starvation. But after bearing the brunt of the war with IS, largely considered a global threat, residents say they thought the international community or the government would help them rebuild.

The only aid families here get right now, Zanjelli residents say, is Iraqi military rations, as soldiers share their food.

“There is nothing they can do to pay us back for what we have lost,” says Hussain. “But shouldn’t we at least get refunded for our property?” (VOA)

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Land of Wanderlust: God’s Own Garden, Mawlynnong clings on to its Tranquillity

Mawlynnong, is located at a distance of 90kms from the state capital Shillong in the state Meghalaya. The village is also tagged as God’s own garden

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Living Root Bridge, by Debopriya Kumar.

November 9, 2016: Mawlynnong, is located at a distance of 90kms from the state capital Shillong in the state Meghalaya. The village is also tagged as God’s own garden because of its mind-boggling fresh natural beauty and clean environment.

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Until 2003, this was a remote community hardly anyone knew about, but after it got the prestigious tag of ‘Cleanest Village in Asia’ by Discover India Magazine, tourists started pouring in to witness the God’s own garden.

Mawlynnong is the home to the Khasi tribal people which is far away from noise and dirt of other cities.

“You would find Bamboo dustbins standing at the corner of each household,” said Debopriya Kumar, a Tourism enthusiast and a scholar of tourism studies who recently visited Mawlynnong.

The streets are swiped at regular intervals by volunteers and would find large signboards requesting visitors not to throw away plastics, as littering is something that is sternly frowned upon.

A Street of Mawlynnong Village. Picture taken by Debopriya Kumar.
A Street of Mawlynnong Village, by Debopriya Kumar.

He further said, “The local people say that the cleanliness was taught by their forefathers and they have kept their tradition going by keeping their surroundings clean.”

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“Though, Mawlynnong’s concern for hygiene emerged about 130 years ago when an outbreak of cholera struck. Since there were no medical facilities in the village back then, cleanliness was seen as the only way to prevent the spread of the disease.”

The village has also been hailed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He said in an autumn radio address under his Clean India campaign, “I was amazed to know that there is such a village in remote northeast, Meghalaya, which is so passionately carrying the mission of cleanliness for years.”

In a conversation with NewsGram, Debopriya Kumar described how the walk through the village is like.

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“The living tree root bridges made by the locals are a beauty to watch, they entwined the roots of rubber trees in order to pave paths through the thick forest.”

The bridges are woven in such a manner that they are not slippery and are very sturdy.

– by Pinaz Kazi of NewsGram. Twitter: @PinazKazi