Taliban attacks kill at least 69 across Afghanistan

Smoke rises from police headquarters while Afghan security forces keep watch after a suicide car bomber and gunmen attacked the provincial police headquarters in Gardez, the capital of Paktia province, Afghanistan October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

By Mirwais Harooni

KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban militants struck government targets in many provinces of Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing at least 69 people, including a senior police commander, and wounding scores of others.

The deadliest attack hit a police training centre attached to the police headquarters in Gardez, main city of Paktia province.

Two Taliban suicide car bombers paved the way for a number of gunmen to attack the compound, officials and militants said. At least 21 police officers were killed, including the Paktia provincial police chief, with 48 others wounded, according to government officials.

The attack also left at least 20 civilians dead and 110 wounded, the Interior Ministry said. Security forces killed at least five attackers.

Dozens of dead and wounded were taken to the city hospital, even as many more lay where they fell during the fighting, deputy public health director Hedayatullah Hameedi said.

The Taliban, seeking to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster by U.S.-led forces, claimed responsibility.

The militant group also attacked a district centre in neighbouring Ghazni province on Tuesday, detonating an armoured Humvee vehicles packed with explosives near the provincial governor’s office.

Provincial officials said at least 15 government security forces were killed and 12 wounded in the Ghazni attacks, with 13 civilians killed and seven wounded.

The Taliban said they had killed 31 security forces and wounded 21 in those clashes.

Fighting was also reported near local government centres in Farah and Kandahar provinces.


(Additional reporting by Mustafa Andalib in Ghazni; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Nick Macfie)


Somalia calls for blood donations after bombing, Turkey sends doctors

Civilians walk at the scene of an explosion in KM4 street in the Hodan district of Mogadishu. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

By Maggie Fick

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Somalia is in desperate need for donated blood to treat survivors of a truck bombing in the capital Mogadishu on Saturday that killed more than 300 people and injured at least 400 others, a minister said.

The bombing was one of the worst such attacks in Somalia. Officials said it bore the hallmarks of the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group, but they have not claimed responsibility.

Information Minister Abdirahman Omar Osman said Somalia does not have a blood bank and that the limitations of its health care system was impeding the medical response. Countries including Turkey and Qatar are providing medical assistance.

“We are requesting blood, we are requesting assistance for verifying the dead in order for their relatives to know,” Osman told Reuters by phone from Mogadishu.

Somalia has been mired in conflict since 1991, when clan warlords overthrew a dictator then turned on each other. One of the poorest countries in Africa, it faces severe food insecurity and relies on foreign donors to support its institutions and basic services.

Osman said the bodies of more than 100 people buried on Monday “were blown beyond recognition”, and that he hoped other bodies could still be identified.

Turkish doctors — mainly surgeons and specialists in spine injuries — arrived along with Turkey’s health minister on Monday.

“They are treating people in hospitals in Mogadishu,” the minister said.

Turkey evacuated 35 critically wounded Somalis to Ankara by plane on Monday, the country’s deputy prime minister Recep Akdag told reporters upon returning from Somalia. An increasingly close ally of Somalia, Turkey opened a $50 million military base in the capital last month.

Medicine from neighboring nations Djibouti and Kenya arrived by plane on Tuesday and “air ambulance” was en route from the Gulf state of Qatar, the minister said.

Qatar would be evacuating 25 more injured people to a hospital in Sudan.

(Reporting by Maggie Fick; Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Suicide bombers attack Damascus police center: Syrian state media

A damaged site is seen in front of police headquarters in central Damascus, Syria October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Three men blew themselves up near the police headquarters in central Damascus on Wednesday, killing two people and injuring six others, state media said, citing the interior ministry.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, the second this month.

Two suicide bombers tried to storm the police center and clashed with guards before detonating explosive devices outside on Khalid bin al-Walid street, the Damascus police chief said.

Police forces then chased down the third attacker, who blew himself up nearby at the entrance to a clothes market.

“Our investigations are ongoing to find out where they came from and how,” police chief Mohammad Kheir Ismail told state TV from outside the headquarters. “The issue has been controlled.”

An Islamic State statement said three suicide bombers had attacked the police center with machine guns and explosive belts.

Islamic State also claimed responsibility earlier this month for a similar suicide bomb attack on a police station in another part of Damascus, in which 17 people were reported dead.

Damascus has enjoyed relative security as Syria’s six-year civil war has raged on nearby and across the country. But several such attacks have hit the capital in recent years, including a car bomb that killed 20 people in July.

Islamic State and Tahrir al-Sham – led by militants formerly linked to al Qaeda – have each claimed separate suicide blasts that killed scores of people in Damascus previously.

“The desperate suicide attempts come as a response to the victories of the Syrian Arab Army, and the Interior Ministry is fully ready to thwart any terrorist act,” state television quoted Interior Minister Mohammad al-Shaar as saying.

With the help of Russian jets and Iran-backed militias, the Damascus government has pushed back rebels in western Syria, shoring up its rule over the main urban centers. In recent months, it has also marched eastwards against Islamic State.

Syrian troops and allied forces have recaptured several suburbs of Damascus from rebel factions over the past year. The army and its allies have been fighting insurgents in the Jobar and Ain Tarma districts on the capital’s eastern outskirts.

(Reporting by Ellen Francis; additional reporting by Ali Abdelatti in Cairo; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Nigeria set to start mass trial of Boko Haram suspects behind closed doors

ABUJA (Reuters) – The trial of more than 1,600 people suspected of ties with Boko Haram was expected to begin in Nigeria on Monday behind closed doors, in the biggest legal investigation into the eight-year militant Islamist insurgency.

More than 20,000 people have been killed and two million forced from their homes in northeastern Nigeria during the insurgency, contributing to what the United Nations has said is among the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

Nigeria’s ministry of justice said last month the trial of around 1,670 people held at the Kainji detention facility would begin at the site, in the central Niger state, on Monday and would be presided over by four judges.

A spokesman for the ministry did not respond to requests for confirmation that the trial had begun. A military spokesman declined to comment, saying questions should be addressed to the judiciary.

The ministry has said that after the Kainji trials are completed, a further 651 people suspected of having links to Boko Haram and currently being held at prisons in Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern state of Borno, would go on trial.

Clement Nwankwo, a human rights lawyer based in the capital, Abuja, said the trials would provide a more effective deterrent if they were open to the media and public.

“On the Boko Haram issue, stories need to be told for the public to be made aware what has been going on and understand the nature of the crimes committed,” said Nwankwo, adding that secrecy also made it hard to determine whether trials were fair.

“The Nigerian authorities have not been known to be diligent in investigating and properly prosecuting suspects,” he said, warning that a sense of injustice could breed resentment among relatives that could yield future radicalization.


However, Fatima Akilu – who headed the government’s counter violent extremism program under the previous administration – said secrecy was needed to encourage witnesses and judges to take part in the trials because Nigeria does not have a witness protection program.

“A lot of witnesses were afraid to come forward,” Akilu, who was based in the Office of the National Security Adviser from 2012 to 2015, said of previous efforts to pursue trials.

She said judges and witnesses had previously been subjected to death threats.

“If the witnesses don’t come forward there is limited evidence in terms of reaching a conviction, so I think there was little choice,” she said, adding that there were no clear alternatives in the absence of an amnesty program.

Nigeria’s handling of thousands of people accused of ties with Boko Haram insurgents has previously attracted criticism.

The legal process marks a steep escalation in the number of insurgency-related cases being handled by Nigerian authorities.

The Ministry of Justice has said that, as of Sept. 11, only 13 “terrorism cases” had been concluded and nine convictions had been secured.

“The decision to start the trials is a response to persistent complaints by local and international human rights groups over thousands of persons detained without access to lawyers and without any specific charges, said Nnamdi Obasi, of International Crisis Group.

(Reporting by Camillus Eboh, Paul Carsten and Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Editing by Gareth Jones)

France, ‘in a state of war’, to vote on anti-terrorism law

France, 'in a state of war', to vote on anti-terrorism law

By Richard Lough

PARIS (Reuters) – France remains “in a state of war”, its interior minister said on Tuesday before lawmakers voted on an anti-terrorism bill that will increase police powers to search and restrict people’s movements but which rights groups say will hurt civil liberties.

Parliament’s lower house is expected to adopt the legislation which will boost the powers of security agencies at a time when the French authorities are struggling to deal with the threat posed by foreign jihadists and homegrown militants.

More than 240 people have been killed in France in attacks since early 2015 by assailants who pledged allegiance to or were inspired by Islamic State. In the latest attack on Sunday, a man cried Allahu Akbar — God is Greatest — before fatally stabbing two women outside the railway station in the city of Marseille.

“We are still in a state of war,” Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said in an interview on France Inter radio. “We have foiled numerous attacks since the start of the year that would have led to many deaths.”

Emergency powers in place since November 2015, when Islamist suicide bombers and gunmen carried out attacks in Paris and killed 130 people, have played a significant role in enabling intelligence agencies to disrupt plots, the government says.

The new legislation would see many of those emergency powers enshrined in law, with limited oversight from the judiciary.

The interior ministry, without approval from a judge, will be able to set up security zones when there is a threat, restricting the movement of people and vehicles in and out and with power to carry out searches inside the area.

It will have more power to shut down places of worship if intelligence agencies believe religious leaders are inciting violence in France or abroad or justifying acts of terrorism.

Police will also have greater powers to raid private property, if they have judicial approval, and there will be an increased ability to impose restrictions on people’s movements, including via electronic surveillance tags, if they are regarded as a threat to national security.


President Emmanuel Macron, painted by rivals as weak on security during his election campaign, has already acted to bolster counter-terrorism efforts, creating a task force in June to improve coordination among France’s multiple intelligence agencies.

The anti-terrorism bill has met little resistance from the public, with people still on edge after the series of Islamist-related attacks and smaller incidents that have followed.

But rights campaigners say it will curb civil liberties.

“France’s new counter-terrorism bill grants the executive far-reaching powers to clamp down on the ability of ordinary people in France to worship, assemble, move freely, express themselves and enjoy their privacy,” Human Rights Watch said last month.

Jacques Toubon, head of France’s public human rights watchdog, warned the legislation could be seen as targeting Muslims and risked unraveling France’s social cohesion.

In a July report to parliament, Toubon said the legislation gave no precise legal definition of terrorism, which left it open to abuse.

Nonetheless, some conservative opponents of Macron say the draft legislation, which is not as all-encompassing as the state of emergency currently allows, does not go far enough.

“We need to rearm the state,” right-wing lawmaker Eric Ciotti told France Info radio. He called for authorities to have greater powers to expel foreigners who threaten public safety.

Ciotti said he and a number of legislators from center-right The Republicans party would vote against the text. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen also said her party, which counts seven lawmakers, would not support the bill.

(Additional reporting by Brian Love; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Oklahoma man convicted of murder in beheading case: media

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – An Oklahoma man who had converted to Islam was convicted of murder on Friday in the case of a female co-worker who was beheaded three years ago, after the jury rejected his plea of insanity, local media reported.

A jury also found Alton Nolen, 33, guilty of assault crimes after less than two hours of deliberation in Cleveland County criminal court, the Oklahoman newspaper reported.

Nolan had been suspended from his job at a food distribution plant in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, when he carried out the attack on co-workers in September, 2014.

He grabbed Colleen Hufford, 54, from behind and cut her across the throat with a large knife at Vaughan Foods plant in Moore, police said.

He also wounded co-worker Traci Johnson, who survived. The carnage ended when Nolan was shot inside the warehouse by a company executive.

After his arrest, Nolen confessed to investigators, telling them in a recording that he felt oppressed, the Oklahoman newspaper reported.

“You know all I was doing was … what I was supposed to do as a Muslim,” he said in the recording, which was played for jurors, according to the Oklahoman.

His attorneys asked jurors to find their client not guilty by reason of insanity, the Oklahoman reported, as the lawyers said Nolen had constructed his own religion out of conflicting beliefs.

Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty in the penalty phase of the trial, scheduled to begin next week.

“I’m definitely pleased with the outcome thus far,” Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn told reporters after the verdict. “Justice for Colleen is what we’re all wanting.”

Nolen has said that he wants to be executed.

In October 2015, a Cleveland County judge dismissed claims that Nolen was mentally impaired and declared him competent to stand trial.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

One week to cross a street: how IS pinned down Filipino soldiers in Marawi

One week to cross a street: how IS pinned down Filipino soldiers in Marawi

By Tom Allard

MARAWI CITY, Philippines (Reuters) – With a grimace, Brigadier General Melquiades Ordiales of the Philippines 1st Marine Brigade recounted the painful gains made against Islamist militants in Marawi City.

“It took us one week from this point to that point, to cross that street,” he said, casting his eyes to the other side of a two-lane road in the heart of the southern Philippines city, lined by three-storey buildings shattered by air strikes and the remaining walls riddled with bullet holes.

“It was really very, very tough.”

The grinding urban warfare that has destroyed much of the grandly named Sultan Omar Dianalan Boulevard shows just how much of a threat Islamic State is to the Philippines and potentially other countries in the Southeast Asian region.

But when the fighting started, Philippine authorities were unfazed.

After the Islamic State-backed militants took over large parts of picturesque, lakeside Marawi in May, the country’s defense minister, Delfin Lorenzana, predicted the entire conflict would be over in one week.

Now, after four months of intense aerial bombardment and house-by-house battles, Philippine commanders believe they are in the final stages of the operation to oust the rebels from the city.

In the past two weeks, military officials say they have conquered three militant bastions, including a mosque, and restricted about 60 remaining guerrillas to about 10 devastated city blocks in the business district. Patrols have been increased on the lake to prevent the supply of armaments and recruits to the holed-up militants.


Military officers who have skirmished for years with Islamic insurgents in the southern Philippines say the battle in Marawi has been more intense and difficult than earlier encounters.

The Islamic State militants are better armed, with high-powered weapons, night vision goggles, the latest sniper scopes and surveillance drones, said Captain Arnel Carandang, of the Philippines Army First Scout Ranger Battalion.

He said he has served for almost a decade in the remote jungles and mountains of Mindanao, the southern Philippines region that has long been wracked by insurgencies. Now, Carandang says, the military is in unfamiliar urban terrain.

The militants have exploited the battlefield to their advantage and held off Philippines forces despite a 10-to-1 numerical advantage for the government troops.

Borrowing heavily from Islamic State tactics in the Iraqi city of Mosul, they have surrounded themselves with hostages and used snipers and a network of tunnels.

Marawi’s underground drainage system and “rat holes” – crevices in the walls of high floors allowing access to adjacent buildings – have enabled the rebels to evade bombs and remain undetected, soldiers at the battlefront said.

“We believe there have been some foreign terrorists that have been directing their operations that’s why they are, how do I define this, really good,” said Carandang.

“We have seen some cadavers of foreigners. Some are white, some are black and some tall people we guess are Asians (from outside the Philippines). We have been hearing in their transmissions some English speaking terrorists.”


Hostages – many of them Christians – have been deployed to build improvised explosive devices, scavenge for food and weapons in the heat of battle and fight for the Islamist rebels, according to those who escaped.

“When we were first moved to the mosque, there were more than 200 of us,” an escaped hostage, who asked not to be identified for safety reasons, told Reuters last week.

“We gradually became fewer. People would go on errands but they wouldn’t come back. They either escaped or died. By the time I left, there were only about 100 of us.”

The account could not be verified, but military officials confirmed the man escaped from Marawi in early August.

The hostage said the militants were excited by their successes in Marawi, speaking often of the advantages of urban warfare and talking about some of their next possible targets, including other cities in Mindanao and the Philippines capital Manila.

“They said they could hide well in the cities. They can get civilians to become hostages and it’s more difficult in the mountains with only the soldiers,” he said.

Many of the fighters are young recruits, who are fanatical and accomplished fighters, the soldiers said.

“By the way they move and their tactics, you can see they’ve been trained,” said Colonel Jose Maria Cuerpo, deputy commander of the 103rd Brigade fighting in Marawi.

For a description of how Mindanao youngsters are recruited by militants, click on [nL3N1KB1Z5]


Much of this bloodshed could have been avoided, local political leaders told Reuters.

Naguib Sinarimbo, a Muslim leader who has negotiated between the military and Islamic separatists for years, said he and other elders had urged the armed forces to allow militias and rival Islamist groups to take the lead in ousting the Islamic State militants.

The groups were familiar with Marawi’s terrain and, through family and clan links, could influence many of the fighters to lay down their weapons, they told the armed forces.

The proposal was rebuffed, Sinarimbo said. Air power, the military assured them, was the path to a quick win.

Zia Alonto Adiong, a provincial politician, said the military also had doubts about the loyalty of some of the “political personalities” offering to provide their militias to push out the fighters.

The result was a city in ruins, hundreds of thousands of residents displaced and “emboldened” Islamists, Sinarimbo said.

“They proceeded with the aerial bombing but they didn’t take the city,” Sinarimbo said. “The military lost authority.”

In addition, the devastation of the city will play into militants’ hands, creating resentment and further radicalising many youngsters, he said.

Marawi residents in evacuation centers or staying with relatives elsewhere are becoming increasingly frustrated, said Adiong, who is a spokesman for the local government’s crisis management authority. Some residents were disappointed and angry that requests for a moratorium on bank loan repayments had not been met, he told Reuters.

Philippines central bank governor Nestor Espenilla told Reuters legislation would be needed for a debt moratorium and was being studied.

Mindanao has long been marred by the decades of Muslim hostility to rule from Manila. After years fighting insurgent groups and then long negotiations, the government signed an agreement in 2014 to give Muslim majority areas in Mindanao autonomy. But the deal has been long delayed.

“This part of the Philippines is fertile ground to plant violent extremism,” Adiong said. “There is a narrative of social injustice that is strong. Young people are fed up with the peace process and nothing concrete or sustainable has developed.”

“[The militants] use this as the basis to entice people, to get support of the local people.”


In Marawi, some in the armed forces are hopeful that at least some militants will surrender and hand over between 45 to 50 civilian captives. Carandang, the Scout Rangers captain, however said indications were the rebels are preparing for a bloody final stand.

“We are monitoring the enemy’s transmissions and it’s like during these final days they are being more fanatical,” he said. “Transmissions indicate they are preparing for suicide bombings.”

An unused suicide vest was discovered this month in Marawi’s Grand Mosque, a former stronghold of the militants, government sources told Reuters.

Suicide attacks are rare in the Philippines despite decades of Islamist insurgency.

“That’s the difference between here and Syria and Iraq,” said Ordiales, the marine general. “It’s almost the same war tactics and fighting tactics, the one thing that’s not the same is the human bomb or the suicide bombing.

“It hasn’t happened, not yet.”

(Additional reporting by Martin Petty in Marawi City and Karen Lema in Manila; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Girl strapped with bomb kills five in Cameroon mosque

By Josiane Kouagheu

YAOUNDE (Reuters) – A girl with a bomb strapped to her walked into a mosque in northern Cameroon where it exploded, killing five worshippers in an attack bearing the hallmarks of Islamist militant group Boko Haram, authorities said.

The girl of 12 or 13 years old arrived at the Sanda-Wadjiri mosque in remote Kolofata at the first call to prayer at between five and six a.m., the governor of Cameroon’s Far North region Midjiyawa Bakary told Reuters by telephone.

“The men were bowed in prayer when she came,” Bakary said. “Five of the worshippers were killed and the bomber also.”

He did not name any suspects, but Boko Haram has repeatedly used suicide bombers as well as strapping children with explosives to strike at civilian and military targets.

The Nigerian jihadist group, which is now split into at least two factions, has been fighting for almost a decade to revive a medieval Islamic caliphate in the Lake Chad region, where Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad meet.

Allied forces from the four countries have routed it in much of the territory it once controlled, but the group has responded by scattering and stepping up attacks on civilians.

Amnesty International said last week that Boko Haram had killed 381 civilians in Nigeria and Cameroon since the beginning of April, more than double that for the preceding five months.

Of those, 158 of the deaths were in Cameroon, which the rights group linked to a rise in suicide bombings, the deadliest of which killed 16 people in Waza in July.

(Writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Ralph Boulton)

Boko Haram resurgence kills 381 civilians since April: Amnesty

ABUJA (Reuters) – The Islamist militant group Boko Haram has killed 381 civilians in Nigeria and Cameroon since the beginning of April, rights group Amnesty International said on Tuesday, a testament to the militant group’s deadly resurgence.

The Nigerian military has repeatedly said Boko Haram has been “defeated”. But in recent months, it has carried out a string of lethal suicide bombings and other high-profile attacks on towns and an oil exploration team.

The number of deaths since April 1 is more than double that for the preceding five months, Amnesty said.

Boko Haram has killed 223 civilians in Nigeria since April. The forcing of women and girls to act as suicide bombers has driven the sharp rise in deaths in northeast Nigeria and northern Cameroon, said Amnesty.

“Boko Haram is once again committing war crimes on a huge scale, exemplified by the depravity of forcing young girls to carry explosives with the sole intention of killing as many people as they possibly can,” said Alioune Tine, Amnesty’s director for West and Central Africa.

In Nigeria, the deadliest attack was in July, when the militants abducted an oil exploration team with staff of the state oil firm and a university while they were traveling in a military convoy. Boko Haram killed 40 people and kidnapped three others, Amnesty said.

Boko Haram suicide bombers have killed 81 people in Nigeria since the start of April, said Amnesty.

In Cameroon, the Islamist insurgency has killed at least 158 people in the same period. That is also linked to a rise in suicide bombings, the deadliest of which killed 16 people in Waza in July, the rights group said.

More than 2.5 million people have been displaced or become refugees in the Lake Chad region – which includes Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad – while 7.2 million people lack secure access to food because of the conflict with Boko Haram, according to the United Nations.

The insurgency has left more than 20,000 people dead since it began in 2009.

(Reporting by Paul Carsten; editing by Andrew Roche)

Suspected Boko Haram members kill 18 people in northeast Nigeria

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – Suspected Boko Haram militants killed 18 people in northeast Nigeria on Friday, according to local witnesses and officials, the latest in an escalating number of lethal attacks in the region.

The knife-wielding attackers, moving under cover of night, targeted people in the town of Banki, 80 miles (130 km) southeast of the city of Maiduguri in Borno state, the epicenter of the eight-year conflict with Boko Haram, said a community leader and a local member of a vigilante group.

The attack on the town, which sits on the border with Cameroon, is the latest in a string of deadly Boko Haram raids and bombings that have undermined the Nigerian military’s statements that the insurgency is all but defeated.

The frequency of attacks in northeastern Nigeria has increased in the last few months, killing at least 172 people since June 1 before Friday’s attack, according to a Reuters tally.

The attack on Banki left 18 dead, according to Modu Perobe, a member of the Civilian Joint Task Force, a regional vigilante group. Abor Ali, a local ruler, confirmed the death toll.

Boko Haram’s eight-year insurgency has left at least 20,000 dead and sparked one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world, with tens of thousands already in famine-like conditions, according to the United Nations.

Some 8.5 million people in the worst affected parts of northeast Nigeria are now in need of some form of humanitarian assistance, with 5.2 million people lacking secure access to food, the U.N. has said.

(Reporting by Ahmed Kingimi in Maiduguri; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Tom Brown)