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Unknown Gunmen Assassinate Prominent Minority Activist of Ahmadi community in Pakistan

Malik Saleem Latif, a lawyer by profession, was on his way to a court with his son when attackers ambushed them and fired at them from behind

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Lighted candles are seen outside a mosque of the Ahmadi sect, in Lahore, Pakistan, May 30, 2010. Unknown gunmen in central Pakistan on Thursday killed Malik Saleem Latif, a local leader of the Ahmadi community, considered the country’s most persecuted religious sect, VOA
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Islamabad, March 30, 2017: Unknown gunmen in central Pakistan have killed a prominent local leader of the minority Ahmadi community, a day after a new report spoke of increasing violence against what is referred to as the country’s most persecuted religious sect.

Police and community spokespeople said Malik Saleem Latif, a lawyer by profession, was on his way to a court with his son on their motorbike Thursday in the town of Nankana Sahib when attackers ambushed them and fired at them from behind.

The slain lawyer was the area head of the Ahmadi community and a relative of Pakistan’s first Nobel laureate, Professor Abdus Salam, who fled the country in 1974 and lived in Britain to protest enactment of a new constitutional amendment declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims.

The violence came as the Ahmadi sect, in its annual report released Wednesday, documented an unprecedented increase in deadly attacks against its members and worship places across Pakistan in 2016.

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“The year ended under great stress and strain for the beleaguered community. Most of the vicious acts took place in the Punjab [province],” the report said.

Thursday’s attack also occurred in the province, the country’s most populous and the political power base of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N.

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Codified discrimination

Despite calls for canceling the discriminatory laws against the community, legislation was introduced in 1984 that banned Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslims and building their mosques in the country.

The minority group in predominantly Sunni Muslim Pakistan, believes a prophet (Ghulam Ahmad) followed the Prophet Mohammed, who founded Islam. But that view runs counter to the Muslim religion’s central belief of Mohammad being the last of God’s messengers.

Last December, thousands of Islamists stormed the only Ahmadi mosque in a village in Punjab and desecrated the sanctity of the worship place. The attack prompted authorities to call in troops and paramilitary soldiers to disperse the protesters.

Pakistani authorities later locked the worship place to deter more attacks and have since ignored calls from the Ahmadi community to reopen the mosque to allow its members to resume religious activities.

Pakistan’s other religious minorities, particularly Christians, also frequently complain of being targeted by radical Muslims and falsely accused of blasphemy, charges that carry the death penalty.

In the latest such incident reported in local media Thursday, a prosecutor allegedly told a group of under trial Christian suspects that he “can guarantee their acquittal” if they renounce their faith and embrace Islam.

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Rights activist Joseph Franci, who is providing the accused legal assistance in the case, told reporters that during a recent hearing the prosecutor gathered the suspects outside the court and made the offer. (VOA)

An anti-terrorism court is trying the group of at least 40 Christians for allegedly participating in an angry mob lynching of two Muslim men shortly after a deadly twin suicide bombing of two churches two years ago in Lahore.

Prosecutor Syed Anees Shah is reported to have conceded that he made the offer. (VOA)

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

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

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Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)