Sri Lanka police arrest 23 for targeting Muslims after Easter bombings

Sri Lankan soldiers patrol a road of Hettipola after a mob attack in a mosque in the nearby village of Kottampitiya, Sri Lanka May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

By Alexandra Ulmer and Omar Rajarathnam

KOTTAMPITIYA, Sri Lanka (Reuters) – Sri Lankan police arrested 23 people on Tuesday in connection with a spate of attacks on Muslim-owned homes and shops in apparent reprisal for the Easter bombings by Islamist militants that killed more than 250 people.

Soldiers in armored vehicles patrolled the towns hit by sectarian violence this week as residents recalled how Muslims had hid in paddy fields to escape mobs carrying rods and swords, incensed over the militant attacks.

The April 21 attacks, claimed by Islamic State, targeted churches and hotels, mostly in Colombo, killing more than 250 people and fuelling fears of a backlash against the island nation’s minority Muslims.

Mobs moved through towns in Sri Lanka’s northwest on motorbikes and in buses, ransacking mosques, burning Korans and attacking shops with petrol bombs in rioting that began on Sunday, Muslim residents said.

Police said they arrested 23 people from across the island for inciting violence against Muslims, who make up less than 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s 22 million people who are predominantly Sinhalese Buddhists.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said the situation is under control and no new incidents had been reported on Tuesday.

But a nationwide curfew from 9 p.m. (1530 GMT) to 4 a.m. would be in effect for a second night.

The lone fatality was a man killed while trying to protect his home from attack.

When mobs arrived in the Kottramulla area on Monday evening, Mohamed Salim Fowzul Ameer, 49, went outside while his wife, Fatima Jiffriya, stayed with their four children.

Jiffriya, 37, then heard shouts and sounds of fighting.

“I opened the door to see my husband on the ground in a pool of blood, the police right in front and the mob running,” she said.

“His heart was still beating hard, I took him into my lap and started to scream for help,” she added, her voice breaking, as women consoled her children at an uncle’s house ahead of Ameer’s burial.

DEEP DIVISIONS

Sri Lanka has had a history of ethnic and religious violence and was torn for decades by a civil war between separatists from the mostly Hindu Tamil minority and the Sinhala Buddhist-dominated government.

In recent years, Buddhist hardliners, led by the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) or “Buddhist Power Force”, have stoked hostility against Muslims, saying influences from the Middle East had made Sri Lanka’s Muslims more conservative and isolated.

Last year, scores of Muslim mosques, homes and businesses were destroyed as Buddhist mobs ran amok for three days in Kandy, the central highlands district previously known for its diversity and tolerance.

Muslims said this week’s violence was more widespread.

Residents in the town of Kottampitiya recalled how a group of about a dozen people had arrived in taxis and attacked Muslim-owned stores with stones just after midday on Monday, with the mob soon swelling to 200, and then 1,000.

The mob attacked the main mosque, 17 Muslim-owned businesses and 50 homes, witnesses said.

“The Muslim community huddled in nearby paddy fields, that’s how no one died,” said one of a group of men gathered outside the white-and-green mosque with smashed windows and doors.

Abdul Bari, 48, told Reuters his small brick shop had been burned down with a petrol bomb. “The attackers were on motorbikes, armed with rods and swords,” he added.

Others blamed the police for failing to disperse the crowd.

“The police were watching. They were in the street, they didn’t stop anything. They told us to go inside,” said Mohamed Faleel, 47, who runs a car paint business.

“We asked police, we said stop them. They didn’t fire. They had to stop this, but they didn’t,” he added.

Police spokesman Gunasekera rejected allegations that police had stood by while the violence unfolded. He said the perpetrators would be punished.

“All police officers have been instructed to take stern action against the violators, even to use the maximum force. Perpetrators could face up to a 10-year jail term,” he said.

A police source said seven of those arrested for the violence in Kottampitiya were young Sinhalese men from nearby Buddhist villages.

“They were leading the charge yesterday. They were instructing people on which stores to attack,” said the police source.

The men said they were seeking revenge for the militant attack in the city of Negombo, where over 100 people were killed at the St. Sebastian’s Church during Easter prayers, the police source said.

A court remanded the men to police custody on Tuesday. They could not be reached for comment.

(Additional reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; editing by Clarence Fernandez and Darren Schuettler)

‘Our darkest of days’: PM Ardern voices New Zealand’s grief

A poster hangs at a memorial site for victims of Friday's shooting, in front of Christchurch Botanic Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

By Tom Westbrook and Charlotte Greenfield

CHRISTCHURCH (Reuters) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday praised the bravery of mosque worshippers as a lone gunman massacred their friends and family, saying the nation stood with its grieving Muslim community in this “darkest of days”.

As preparations for the first burials were underway for the 50 people killed last Friday in the Christchurch mosques mass shooting, Ardern singled out three worshippers, including one of the first killed in the attack.

A woman touches a photo at a memorial site for the victims of Friday's shooting, outside Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

A woman touches a photo at a memorial site for the victims of Friday’s shooting, outside Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Hati Mohemmed Daoud Nabi, 71, opened the door to the Al Noor mosque. Ardern said he “uttered the words ‘Hello brother, welcome’. His final words”.

“Of course, he had no idea of the hate that sat behind the door, but his welcome tells us so much; that he was a member of a faith that welcomed all its members, that showed openness, and care,” she told parliament.

Ardern, who has been widely praised for her compassionate and decisive handling of the tragedy, said she never anticipated having to voice the grief of a nation.

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist who was living in Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island, was charged with murder on Saturday.

He was remanded without a plea and is due back in court on April 5, when police said he was likely to face more charges.

“The families of the fallen will have justice,” said Ardern, adding she would never mention the alleged gunman’s name.

“He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing. Not even his name.”

She ended her speech with the Arabic greeting “Al salam Alaikum”, meaning “Peace be upon you”.

The victims, killed at two mosques during Friday prayers, were largely Muslim migrants, refugees and residents from countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Turkey, Kuwait, Somalia and others.

No official list of victims has been released and police said they were “acutely aware of frustrations” at the length of time taken to formally identify bodies.

“While identification may seem straightforward the reality is much more complex, particularly in a situation like this,” police said in a statement. Twelve victims had been identified to the satisfaction of the coroner and six of those had been returned to their families, they said.

Bodies of the victims were being washed and prepared for burial in a Muslim ritual process on Tuesday, with teams of volunteers flown in from overseas to assist with the heavy workload.

A wheelchair-using worshipper who survived the slaughter at the Al Noor mosque, but whose wife was killed, has offered an olive branch to the gunman, saying he would like to meet him and tell him “I still love you”.

“I don’t agree with what you did; you took a wrong decision, a wrong direction, but I want to believe in you. That you have great potential in your heart,” said Farhid Ahmed, 59.

Fifty people were wounded and 30 of them are in the Christchurch hospital, authorities said. Nine of them are in critical condition. One four-year-old child was transferred to a hospital in Auckland in a critical condition.

GUN LAW DEBATE RAGES

The gunman used a semi-automatic AR-15 during the mosque shootings, police said. A New Zealand gun shop owner said the store had sold Tarrant four weapons and ammunition online between December 2017 and March 2018, but not the high-powered weapon used in the massacre.

Ardern has said she supports a ban on semi-automatic weapons and that cabinet has made in-principle decisions to change gun laws which she will announce next Monday.

“Part of ensuring the safety of New Zealanders must include a frank examination of our gun laws,” she said.

While some New Zealanders have voluntarily surrendered guns, others have been buying more to beat the ban.

A gun club in the northern town of Kaitaia burned down early on Tuesday and police were treating the blaze as suspicious.

Simon Bridges, leader of the opposition National Party, said he wanted to get details of the changes to see if there could be bipartisan support in parliament. The Nationals draw support from rural areas, where gun ownership is high.

“We know that change is required. I’m willing to look at anything that is going to enhance our safety – that’s our position,” Bridges told TVNZ.

Ardern has said that Tarrant emailed a “manifesto” to more than 30 recipients including her office, nine minutes before the attack but it gave no location or specific details. In the document, which was also posted online, Tarrant described himself as “Just an ordinary White man, 28 years old”.

Ardern was critical of social media platforms for allowing the distribution of hatred and division, including live broadcasts of the attack.

“We cannot simply sit back and accept that these platforms just exist and that what is said on them is not the responsibility of the place where they are published. They are the publisher. Not just the postman,” she said.

“There cannot be a case of all profit no responsibility. This, of course, doesn’t take away the responsibility we too must show as a nation, to confront racism, violence and extremism.”

A consortium of global technology firms has shared on its collective database the digital fingerprints of more than 800 versions of the video of the mass shooting.

Anyone caught sharing the massacre video in New Zealand faces a fine of up to NZ$10,000 ($6,855) or up to 14 years in jail.

Facebook, the world’s largest social media network, has said it removed 1.5 million videos within 24 hours of the attack.

Ardern said there would be an inquiry into what government agencies “knew, or could or should have known” about the alleged gunman and whether the attack could have been prevented.

More than 250 New Zealand police are working on the inquiry, with staff from the U.S. FBI and Australia’s Federal Police joining them.

People visit a memorial site for victims of Friday's shooting, in front of Christchurch Botanic Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

People visit a memorial site for victims of Friday’s shooting, in front of Christchurch Botanic Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Police will be stationed at mosques around the country when they are open for prayers, and nearby when closed, said Ardern.

“Unfortunately, we have seen in countries that know the horrors of terrorism more than us, there is a pattern of increased tension and actions over the weeks that follow. That means we do need to ensure that vigilance is maintained.”

(Additional reporting by Praveen Menon in WELLINGTON; Editing by Michael Perry and Lincoln Feast)

U.S. judge to sentence three men over plot to bomb Somalis in Kansas

(Reuters) – Three men convicted of a 2016 plot to bomb an apartment complex in Kansas that is home to Somali immigrants and their mosque were due to be sentenced in federal court on Friday.

The trio, described by prosecutors as members of a right-wing militia group, were found guilty in April of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiring to violate the civil rights of their intended victims.

The men plotted to detonate explosive-laden vehicles at the four corners of the complex in Garden City, a town of about 27,000 people in southwest Kansas, with the aim of leveling the building and killing its occupants, prosecutors said.

Each of the defendants – Curtis Allen, Patrick Stein and Gavin Wright – faces a maximum penalty of life in prison for the weapon of mass destruction charge and up to 10 years behind bars for the civil rights violation.

Wright was also found guilty of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in connection with the plot.

They are due to be sentenced at the hearing in Wichita, Kansas, presided over by U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren.

Officials investigated the plot for several months as the men stockpiled guns and explosives in preparation for attacking the apartment complex, where about 120 Somali immigrants lived and had set up a small mosque, according to authorities.

Prosecutors said the men wanted to send a message to Somali immigrants that they were not welcome in the United States.

According to authorities, the three were members of a militia called the Kansas Security Force and formed a splinter group, the Crusaders. They tried unsuccessfully to recruit others to join their plot, prosecutors said, and it was one of those men who tipped off the FBI to the plan.

(Reporting by Alice Mannette in Wichita, Kansas; Writing by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Hunt on for survivors as Indonesia’s quake toll climbs to 131

Rescue team members prepare to find people trapped inside a mosque after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok Island, Indonesia, August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

By Angie Teo and Kanupriya Kapoor

KARANGPANGSOR, Indonesia (Reuters) – The death toll from last weekend’s powerful earthquake on Indonesia’s Lombok island rose to 131 on Wednesday as rescuers found more people crushed under collapsed buildings, though some still held out hope of finding survivors.

“We don’t know for sure how many people are alive under the rubble,” Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesman for Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) told reporters in Jakarta.

Policemen stand as heavy equipment move debris for try to find people trapped inside a mosque after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok Island, Indonesia, August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

Policemen stand as heavy equipment move debris for try to find people trapped inside a mosque after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok Island, Indonesia, August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

“There are reports … that there are people buried alive, it is a critical time for immediate evacuation,” he added, without giving details.

BNPB had previously put the number of dead at 105, including two on the western neighboring island of Bali, which also felt the 6.9 magnitude quake. Sutopo said the figure would rise still further.

Lombok had already been hit by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake on July 29 that killed 17 people and briefly stranded several hundred trekkers on the slopes of a volcano.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire and is regularly hit by earthquakes. In 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

A woman was pulled alive on Tuesday from under a grocery store that fell apart in the rural north of the tropical holiday island, near the epicenter of Sunday’s quake.

Rescuers dug through the rubble of a mosque on Wednesday, hoping to reach the aunt of a sprinter who became a national hero last month at the under-20 world championships in Finland.

Salama, 52, was at a prayer class in the Karangpangsor village mosque when the quake struck. She is an aunt by marriage of Lalu Muhammad Zohri, who just over a year ago could barely afford running shoes and was hardly known outside his village.

The 18-year-old became a household name almost overnight in July when he won the 100 meters gold at the World Junior Championships in Tampere, Finland. Now he carries the hopes of Indonesia at the Asian Games that the Southeast Asian nation is preparing to host in the next few weeks.

He lives two doors away from his aunt’s home.

Rescuers used a mechanical digger to clear a jumble of metal rods and concrete beside the still-intact green dome of the mosque, but there were no signs that the woman was alive and relatives appeared to have lost hope.

“Hopefully, now, with the arrival of heavy equipment, we can get her remains back,” said Husni, another family member.

Boats arrive at shore to evacuate people on the island of Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia, August 6, 2018, in this still image taken from a drone video obtained from social media. Melissa Delport/@trufflejournal/via REUTERS

Boats arrive at shore to evacuate people on the island of Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia, August 6, 2018, in this still image taken from a drone video obtained from social media. Melissa Delport/@trufflejournal/via REUTERS

“GHOST TOWNS”

As hopes of finding more survivors faded, a humanitarian crisis loomed for thousands left homeless and in desperate need of clean water, food, medicine, and shelter.

About three-quarters of Lombok’s north has been without electricity since Sunday, officials said, and aid workers are finding some hamlets hard to reach because bridges and roads were torn up by the disaster.

“Teams are speaking of coming across ghost towns, villages that have essentially been abandoned,” Matthew Cochrane of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in Geneva on Tuesday.

He added that 80 percent of buildings had been damaged or destroyed, with thousands displaced.

Thousands of tourists have left Lombok since Sunday, fearing further earthquakes, some on extra flights provided by airlines and others on ferries to Bali.

Officials said that nearly 8,400 tourists and resort workers had been evacuated from the three Gili islands off the northwest coast of Lombok, where two people died, emptying out a destination popular for its white beaches and turquoise waters.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Neil Fullick)

Egypt says attackers had Islamic State flag as mosque death toll rises

Egypt says attackers had Islamic State flag as mosque death toll rises

By Omar Fahmy

CAIRO (Reuters) – Gunmen who attacked a mosque in North Sinai were carrying an Islamic State flag, Egyptian officials said on Saturday as the state news agency reported the death toll had risen to 305, including 27 children.

Egypt’s military said they had carried out air strikes and raids overnight against militants held responsible for the killings, the bloodiest attack in Egypt’s modern history.

The attack also left 128 people injured, the MENA state news agency reported, while Egypt’s public prosecutor’s office linked it to Islamic State militants, also known as Daesh.

“They numbered between 25 and 30, carrying the Daesh flag and took up positions in front of the mosque door and its 12 windows with automatic rifles,” the prosecutor said in a statement.

The gunmen, some wearing masks and military-style uniforms, surrounded the mosque blocking windows and a doorway and opened fire inside with automatic rifles, the statement said, citing their investigation and interviews with wounded survivors.

No group has claimed responsibility, but Egyptian forces are battling a stubborn Islamic State affiliate in the region, one of the surviving branches of the militant group after it suffered defeats by U.S.-backed forces in Iraq and Syria.

“The air force has over the past few hours eliminated a number of outposts used by terrorist elements,” the army said.

Witnesses say gunmen set off a bomb at the end of Friday prayers at the Al Rawdah mosque in Bir al-Abed, west of El-Arish city, and then opened fire as worshippers tried to flee, shooting at ambulances and setting fire to cars to block roads.

Images on state media showed bloodied victims and bodies covered in blankets inside the mosque.

Striking a mosque would be a shift in tactics for the Sinai militants, who have previously attacked troops and police and more recently tried to spread their insurgency to the mainland by hitting Christian churches and pilgrims.

The massive casualties in the Sinai attack and the targeting of a mosque stunned Egyptians who have struggled through instability after the 2011 uprising ousted long-standing leader Hosni Mubarak, and the years of protests that followed.

UTMOST FORCE

Local sources said some of the worshippers were Sufis, whom groups such as Islamic State consider targets because they revere saints and shrines, which for Islamists is tantamount to idolatry. Islamic State has targeted Sufi and Shi’ite Muslims in other countries like Iraq.

The jihadists in Egypt’s Sinai have also attacked local tribes and their militias for working with the army and police.

Sisi, a former armed forces commander who supporters see as a bulwark against Islamist militants, promised the “utmost force” against those responsible for Friday’s attack. Security has been a key reason for his supporters to back him, and he is expected to run for re-election next year.

“What is happening is an attempt to stop us from our efforts in the fight against terrorism,” he said on Friday.

North Sinai, a mostly desert area which stretches from the Suez Canal eastwards to the Gaza Strip and Israel, has long been a security headache for Egypt and is a strategic region for Cairo because of its sensitive borders.

Local militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, once allied to al Qaeda, split from it and declared allegiance to Islamic State in 2014. But attacks in the Sinai worsened after 2013 when Sisi led the overthrow of President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood after mass protests against his rule.

(Writing by Patrick Markey; editing by Alexander Smith and Jeremy Gaunt)

Militants kill more than 230 at mosque in Egypt’s North Sinai

Militants kill more than 230 at mosque in Egypt's North Sinai

By Ahmed Tolba and Patrick Markey

CAIRO (Reuters) – Militants killed more than 230 people at a mosque in North Sinai on Friday, detonating a bomb and gunning down worshippers in the deadliest such attack of Egypt’s modern history, state media and witnesses said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility, but since 2013 Egyptian security forces have battled a stubborn Islamic State affiliate in the mainly desert region, and militants have killed hundreds of police and soldiers.

State media showed images of bloodied victims and bodies covered in blankets inside the Al Rawdah mosque in Bir al-Abed, west of El Arish, the main city in North Sinai.

Worshippers were finishing Friday prayers at the mosque when a bomb exploded, witnesses said. Around 40 gunmen set up positions outside the mosque with jeeps and opened fire from different directions as people tried to escape.

“Four groups of armed men attacked the worshippers inside the mosque after Friday noon prayers. Two groups were firing at ambulances to deter them, said Mohamed, a witness.

The public prosecutors’ office said in a statement 235 people had been killed and 109 more wounded.

Hours after the attack, Egypt’s military launched air strikes on targets in mountainous areas around Bir al-Abed, security sources and witnesses said.

“The armed forces and the police will avenge our martyrs and restore security and stability with the utmost force,” Sisi said in a televised address.

“What is happening is an attempt to stop us from our efforts in the fight against terrorism, to destroy our efforts to stop the terrible criminal plan that aims to destroy what is left of our region.”

Striking at a mosque would be a change in tactics for the Sinai militants, who have usually attacked troops and police and Christian churches.

SUFI MUSLIMS

Arabiya news channel and some local sources said some of the worshippers were Sufis, whom groups such as Islamic State consider targets because they revere saints and shrines, which for Islamists is tantamount to idolatry.

The jihadists have also attacked local tribes and their militias for working with the army and police, branding them traitors.

The Sinai branch is one of Islamic State’s surviving branches following the collapse of its self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq after military defeats by U.S.-backed forces.

Sisi, a former armed forces commander who presents himself as a bulwark against Islamist militancy, convened an emergency meeting with his defence and interior ministers and intelligence chief soon after the attack.

Security has long been one of the key sources of public support for the former general, who is expected to run for re-election early next year for another four-year term.

U.S. President Donald Trump, in a post on Twitter on Friday, called the assault a “horrible and cowardly terrorist attack”.

“The world cannot tolerate terrorism, we must defeat them militarily and discredit the extremist ideology that forms the basis of their existence,” he added.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also condemned the attack and said Paris stood with its ally.

SINAI STRUGGLE

North Sinai, which stretches from the Suez Canal eastwards to the Gaza Strip and Israel, has long been a security headache for Egyptian security forces because of smuggling.

Sisi has support from some Bedouin tribal leaders, who have helped the army locate weapon-smuggling routes used by jihadi groups, security officials said.

Local militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, once allied to al Qaeda, split from it and declared allegiance to Islamic State in 2014.

Bloodshed in the Sinai worsened after 2013 when Sisi led the overthrow of President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Islamic State earlier this year posted a video of the beheading of two Sufis in northern Sinai, accusing them of practicing “sorcery”.

In July this year, at least 23 soldiers were killed when suicide car bombs hit two military checkpoints in the Sinai, in an attack claimed by Islamic State.

Militants have tried to expand their operations into Egypt’s heavily populated mainland, hitting Coptic Christian churches and pilgrims. In May, gunmen attacked a Coptic group travelling to a monastery in southern Egypt, killing 29.

(Additional reporting by Mohamed Abdellah in Cairo and Yousri Mohamed in Ismalia; Editing by Andrew Roche)

Militants kill 184 in attack on mosque in Egypt’s north Sinai: state media

By Ahmed Tolba and Patrick Markey

CAIRO (Reuters) – Militants killed 184 people at a mosque in Egypt’s north Sinai region on Friday, detonating a bomb and shooting at fleeing worshippers and ambulances, state media and witnesses said.

It was one of the deadliest attacks in the region’s Islamist insurgency. No group claimed immediate responsibility, but since 2014 Egyptian security forces have battled a stubborn Islamic State affiliate in the north of the mainly desert Sinai, where militants have killed hundreds of police and soldiers.

State media showed images of bloodied victims and bodies covered in blankets inside the Al Rawdah mosque in Bir al-Abed, west of the city of El Arish.

State television and the official news agency MENA reported that 184 people had been killed. Another 125 were wounded, according to state media.

“They were shooting at people as they left the mosque,” a local resident whose relatives were at the scene told Reuters. “They were shooting at the ambulances too.”

Arabiya news channel and some local sources said some of the worshippers were sufis who hardliners such as Islamic State regard as apostates because they revere saints and shrines, which for Islamists is tantamount to idolatry.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former armed forces commander who presents himself as a bulwark against Islamist militants, convened an emergency meeting with his defence and interior ministers and intelligence chief soon after the attack, the presidency’s Facebook page and state television said.

The government also declared three days of mourning.

Militants have mostly targeted security forces in their attacks since bloodshed in the Sinai worsened after 2013 when Sisi, then an armed forces commander, led the overthrow of President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

But jihadists have also targeted local Sinai tribes that are working with the armed forces, branding them traitors for cooperating with the army and police.

In July this year, at least 23 soldiers were killed when suicide car bombs hit two military checkpoints in the Sinai, an attack claimed by Islamic State.

Militants have tried to expand beyond the largely barren, Sinai Peninsula into Egypt’s heavily populated mainland, hitting Coptic Christian churches and pilgrims.

In May, gunmen attacked a Coptic group travelling to a monastery in southern Egypt, killing 29.

(Additional reporting by Mohamed Abdellah; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Suicide bombers attack two Afghan mosques, at least 72 dead

By Hamid Shalizi

KABUL (Reuters) – Suicide bombers attacked two mosques in Afghanistan on Friday, killing at least 72 people including children, officials and witnesses said.

One bomber walked into a Shi’ite Muslim mosque in the capital Kabul as people were praying on Friday night and detonated an explosive, one of the worshippers there, Mahmood Shah Husaini, said.

At least 39 people died in the blast at the Imam Zaman mosque in the city’s western Dasht-e-Barchi district, interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish said.

No group claimed responsibility. But Shi’ite Muslims have suffered a series of attacks in Afghanistan in recent months, many of them claimed by the Sunni Muslim militants of Islamic State.

Separately, a suicide bombing killed at least 33 people at a mosque in central Ghor province, a police spokesman said.

The attack appeared to target a local leader from the Jamiat political party, according to a statement from Balkh provincial governor Atta Mohammad Noor, a leading figure in Jamiat.

Again, no one immediately claimed responsibility.

(Additional reporting by Jalil Ahmad Rezaee in Herat; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Catherine Evans and Andrew Heavens)

Suicide attack at Kabul Shi’ite mosque kills ‘at least 14 civilians’

An Afghan policeman keeps guard the the site of attack in Kabul, Afghanistan August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

KABUL (Reuters) – A suicide bomber detonated himself at the gate of a Shi’ite Muslim mosque in the Afghan capital as other attackers stormed the building, killing at least 14 people as worshippers gathered for Friday prayers, officials said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Islamic State militants have attacked minority Shi’ite targets in Afghanistan in the past.

An official at the Ministry of Interior said there were at least 14 civilian casualties, while at least two policemen had been killed and eight wounded.

At least two bodies and 15 wounded people had been brought to city hospitals, with ambulances retrieving more casualties at the scene, said Ismail Kawosi, a spokesman for the Ministry of Public Health.

Some witnesses at the scene said the attackers threw grenades, while police officials said a suicide bomber detonated himself at the gate.

One witness said an attacker wearing a vest packed with explosives shot and killed the guards at the gate.

“At first a suicide bomber opened fire and martyred two security guards at the entrance of the mosque and then they entered inside,” Sayed Pacha told Reuters. “Some people escaped out of the mosque including women, but there were four attackers who managed to enter the mosque.”

Later explosions rocked the area, but their source was unclear.

(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Thousands rally in Istanbul against Israel’s Al-Aqsa mosque measures

Thousands rally in Istanbul against Israel's Al-Aqsa mosque measures

By Murad Sezer and Mehmet Emin Caliskan

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Thousands of people rallied in Turkey’s largest city on Sunday against security measures Israel has imposed at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, shortly after Israel removed other measures that led to two weeks of violent Palestinian protests.

The rally in Istanbul, called “The Big Jerusalem Meeting” and organized by Turkey’s Saadet Party, drew some five thousand people to the Yenikapi parade ground on the southern edge of Istanbul.

Protesters were brought in by buses and ferries from across the city, waved Turkish and Palestinian flags, and held up posters in front of a giant stage where the chairman of the Saadet party and representatives from NGOs addressed the crowd.

“The Al-Aqsa mosque is our honor,” read a poster.

“You should know that not only Gaza, but Tel Aviv also has their eyes on this parade ground. Netanyahu does as well, and he is scared”, said Saadet Party Chairman Temel Karamollaoglu, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Turkey has opposed the security measures installed at the entry points of the mosque compound, with President Tayyip Erdogan warning Israel that it would suffer most from the dispute.

Erdogan accused Israel of inflicting damage on Jerusalem’s “Islamic character”, in comments that Israel’s foreign ministry called “absurd”.

The dispute over security at the mosque compound – where Israel installed metal detectors at entry points after two police guards were shot dead this month – has touched off the bloodiest clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in years.

On Friday however, the main prayer session at the Al-Aqsa mosque ended relatively calmly after Israel removed the tougher security measures, though it barred entrance to men under age 50.

Israel captured East Jerusalem, including the Old City and the holy compound, in the 1967 Middle East war. It annexed the area in a move that has never been recognized internationally.

Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine, sits in the heart of the Old City. It is also the holiest place in Judaism – the venue of two ancient temples, the last destroyed by the Romans. Jews pray under heavy security at the Western Wall at the foot of the elevated plaza.

(Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu, editing by Larry King)