At least 14 Shiites were killed Wednesday in a powerful blast at a mosque in northern Afghanistan, the second deadly attack on the minority in as many days during the major festival of Ashura.
“The explosion happened at the gate of the Shiite mosque in the centre of Balkh district (in Balkh province),” said the provincial governor’s spokesman Munir Ahmad Farhad, adding that 14 people were killed and 28 injured.
His account was confirmed by the provincial deputy police chief.
The blast came as the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for twin attacks in Kabul Tuesday that also targeted Shiites, killing up to 18 people and wounding dozens.
Witnesses said gunmen entered the Karte Sakhi shrine near Kabul University late Tuesday, firing indiscriminately on men, women and children as they tried to flee. The interior ministry said one was wearing a suicide vest.
At the same time, another attacker entered a nearby mosque and took an unspecified number of people hostage as they were commemorating Ashura, the ministry said.
The UN called the attack an “atrocity” and put the toll at 18, though the interior ministry later said it was 16.
The threat of attacks on Shiites was considered particularly serious during Ashura, and many foreign embassies in Kabul had restricted staff movements until the end of the week.
Ashura, marked on Wednesday, commemorates the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who was assassinated in the year 680 and whose tragic end laid the foundation for the faith practised by the Shiite community.
For Shiites around the world, Ashura is a symbol of the struggle against oppression.
In 2011 about 80 people were killed and more than 100 wounded when a suicide bomber struck a gathering of Shiites during Ashura in the heart of Kabul.
- ‘Killing everyone’ -
Grieving worshippers Wednesday described desperately trying to shelter their children against a hail of gunfire during the Kabul attacks.
One mother who gave her name as Saleha told AFP of a gunman who was “killing everyone”.
She was shot in the leg as she tried to protect her child.
“While I was hugging my little son I begged him not to kill my child,” she said at a Kabul hospital.
The child survived, but she angrily denounced the Afghan government for failing to protect them.
“The families of the president, CEO Dr. Abdullah and other rich ones live abroad. Here, only poor people are killed every day.”
Another witness, Ali Hussain, said attackers “indiscriminately shot everyone they faced. They wouldn’t even spare women and children”.
On Wednesday the Islamic State group’s affiliate in Afghanistan and Pakistan claimed the Kabul attack, which President Ashraf Ghani condemned as a “clear sign of a crime against humanity”.
Until recent months the group had been confined to its stronghold in eastern Nangarhar, but in July it claimed twin bombings that tore through minority Shiite Hazara protesters in Kabul, killing 84 people in the deadliest attack in the capital since 2001.
Its leader Hafiz Saeed was killed in a US airstrike in Nangarhar that same month, and officials have denied the July attack marked a turning point for IS in Afghanistan, saying the group has been under heavy pressure from US strikes and Afghan forces on the ground.
Sectarian attacks have been relatively rare in Afghanistan, unlike neighbouring Pakistan where violence -- particularly by Sunni hardliners against the Shiite minority -- has claimed thousands of lives over the past decade.
President Francois Hollande speaks of “a problem with Islam” in French society, in excerpts published Wednesday of a book in which he also suggests that immigration needs to be curbed.
“There is a problem with Islam because Islam requires (holy) sites and recognition,” Hollande told two journalists from Le Monde newspaper for the book which will be published Thursday.
“It’s not Islam that poses a problem in the sense of its being a religion that is dangerous in itself, but because it wants to assert itself as a religion in the (French) republic,” he is quoted as saying in “Un president ne devrait pas dire ca”, which translates as “A president shouldn’t say this”.
Elsewhere in the book, Hollande says he thinks “there are too many arrivals, immigration that should not take place.”
Immigration and national identity are key themes in campaigning for next year’s presidential election, which has echoes of the US race for the White House, with far-right leader Marine Le Pen riding high in the polls.
A string of jihadist attacks in France in the past two years, coupled with the Europe-wide migrant crisis, have stoked anti-immigration sentiment.
A heated debate about Muslim integration in staunchly secular France came to a head over the summer when around 30 towns
France’s highest administrative court later ruled that such a ban was a “serious” violation of basic freedoms.
The deeply unpopular Hollande has not yet declared whether he intends to stand for re-election.
But his arch-rival Nicolas Sarkozy, bidding for the centre-right nomination, is campaigning heavily on populist anti-immigration themes.
Sarkozy on Sunday said that if elected he would call a referendum asking the French if they backed suspending the right for non-EU nationals to join family members in France -- one of the main channels for immigration to the country.
In the tell-all book, Hollande also attacks Sarkozy’s “vulgarity, meanness and cynicism” and criticises the rival he defeated in 2012 for his fascination for money and his legal entanglements.
The Le Monde journalists, Gerard Davet and Fabrice Lhomme, had exceptional one-on-one access to the president in 61 meetings.
Samir Patel, an accused in a case related to the 2002 Gujarat riots, has been detained in London and is due to be extradited to India shortly, officials here said on Wednesday.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), one of the key departments in the British government dealing with extradition requests, told Hindustan Times that Patel had consented to his extradition to India.
Patel is wanted in connection with a case of rioting in Ode village of Anand district on March 1, 2002. He was detained after a red corner notice was issued by Interpol when he was traced to London.
A CPS official said: “We can confirm that Mr Patel has consented to his extradition to India. However, we are unable to comment on any surrender arrangements as this is an operational matter for the police.”
Scotland Yard told Hindustan Times: “On August 9, officers from the MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) Extradition unit attended an address in Beavers Lane, Hounslow and arrested Samir Vinubhai Patel, aged 40, on a warrant issued under section 71 Extradition Act 2003. He appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court on August 10, 2016.”
A team from Gujarat Police is expected to arrive in London shortly and take Patel to India.
The Ode riot, in which 23 people were killed, was reportedly one of nine cases probed by a special investigation team appointed by the Supreme Court. A special court had convicted 23 people for the riot on April 9, 2012.
Patel’s trial in the special court could not be completed when he absconded. It is expected to be resumed after he is taken to India.
India has been seeking the extradition of several individuals from Britain over the years, including Tiger Hanif, who is wanted for the 1993 Gujarat blasts and has made a final appeal against his extradition to the home secretary.
India and Britain signed an extradition treaty in 1992 and it came into force on November 15, 1993. India is included in Type B of the Category 2 list of countries in Britain’s Extradition Act of 2003.
Pope Francis is calling for an urgent ceasefire in Syria to evacuate civilians from what he called an “inhuman” assault on the besieged rebel-held part of the city of Aleppo.
Francis says he is particularly concerned about children “trapped under the cruel bombardments,” which yesterday left at least 25 people dead, five of them children.
During his general audience today, Francis says it’s “with a sense of urgency that I renew my appeal: I’m begging with all my strength for those responsible to undertake an immediate cease-fire that is respected at least to give time to evacuate civilians.”
The UN Security Council is deadlocked over how to respond to the Aleppo crisis, with Russia and the US failing to agree on renewing a cease-fire.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Wednesday accused the Communist Party of India (Marxist) for the killing of its activist in Kerala’s Kannur district and demanded a CBI probe into the incident, alleging that people not following the Left ideology are being murdered.
Noting that it was the seventh political murder in the district this year, BJP spokesperson Siddharth Nath Singh told ANI that they would raise this issue and would definitely respond to the violence of the Left.
“The CPM or the Left ideology has been violent and if you don’t stand with their ideology, they would like to defer with you by silencing through death or murder and that’s what is exactly happening in Kerala,” Singh said.
“It is highly condemnable, but certainly the BJP in a democratic manner will raise this issue and respond to the violence of the Left,” he added.
BJP Karnataka unit president and former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa too attacked the CPM, saying, “This murderous politics has seen a steady increase ever since CPM assumed office in Kerala”.
He said the brutal murder of Prenith had taken place near a petrol bunk in Pinarayi, the native village of chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, which was “a telling comment” on the state of affairs on the law and order front in Kerala.
Yeddyurappa warned the “politically-irrelevant and ideologically-bankrupt CPM” that Karnataka BJP will not be a silent onlooker and would be forced to launch a mass struggle to pressure CPM to stop pursuing “this politics of murder and mayhem.”
Meanwhile, BJP leader Sambit Patra said the incident exposes the governance in Kerala, as people are being hacked to death there on an everyday basis.
“A government that cannot protect lives cannot be called as a government in fact. We have seen almost every day someone is hacked to death in Kerala. The Kerala Government has to investigate and has to punish those people, who are responsible for this,” Patra said.
Two days after a CPM worker was killed, the BJP activist was hacked to death at a petrol pump near in Kannur district in Kerala. The victim suffered severe injuries on his head and neck.
Earlier, in a similar manner, a 52-year-old CPM worker was hacked to death in Kannur.
“The state government has not only failed to preserve law and order but actively participated to wreck it. We demand the LDF government and the chief minister to immediately hand over the murder probe to the CBI,” said BJP spokesperson GVL Narsimha Rao.
Police have deployed personnel in large numbers as the district remained tense in the wake of the political murders.
The parents of a 13-year-old girl in Hyderabad have gone into hiding fearing arrest, but they continue to be under the spotlight along with the Jain ritual of ‘tapasya’ which allegedly claimed their daughter’s life.
Friends and relatives of Lakshmichand and Manisha — the parents of Aradhana Samdariya — say they have “gone out of town in search of peace” ever since for homicide amid allegations that they had coerced the girl to undertake the hazardous ritual. They have also moved the local court seeking anticipatory bail.
Many Jain leaders, meanwhile, have, saying they are being targeted and the community deliberately maligned. They say the ritual of ‘tapasya’ that Aradhana undertook is the first of the nine steps (nav-pad) aimed at attaining salvation, and is not the same as the more controversial Jain ritual of ‘santhara’, whereby the elderly or the sick abstain from food until they die.
The other eight steps towards salvation include charitra (character), gyan (knowledge), darshan (faith) and arihant (one who has vanquished all inner enemies and is still within the body).
“There are various forms of fasting as part of tapasya — one can do it on alternative days, or two days, four days, 18 days, 34 days and 68 days or even more, depending on the capacity of individual. But there is no pressure on anybody to do it and it is purely voluntary,” insists Maangilal Bhandari, an influential Jain leader of Hyderabad.
Myanmar’s newly installed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi next week in India, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday.
Suu Kyi, accompanied by her key ministers, will begin her official visit from October 17 to 19 after concluding a key sub-regional Asian summit in the western Indian state of Goa.
Myanmar’s de-facto leader will meet with Modi, President Pranab Mukherjee and foreign minister Sushma Swaraj during her maiden visit since taking office earlier this year.
She will also attend a business event as part of her efforts to bolster the economy and her administration, which is managing a difficult transition from military-run pariah to full-fledged democracy.
“The visit of the State Counsellor will provide an opportunity for the two sides to discuss issues of mutual interest and seek ways to further strengthen the close and friendly ties that exist between the two countries,” India’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
During the visit, both sides are expected to discuss border management — Myanmar shares its western frontier with India’s restive northeast region.
Indian intelligence officials say several militant groups operating in the area have their training camps in northern Myanmar’s thick jungles.
India reportedly conducted a rare cross-border operation in coordination with Myanmar last June, when dozens of rebels were killed, according to New Delhi’s defence minister.
The pro-democracy activist last visited India in 2012, two years after she was released from house arrest.
India had strongly supported her battle against the country’s dictatorship in the 1980s and early 1990s but later began a dialogue with Myanmar at a time when it was still isolated in the West.