Local affiliates of the so-called Islamic State militant group have shut down dozens of schools in a restive district of northern Afghanistan, provincial officials said.
Abdul Hai Yasheen, the director of education in northern Jawzjan province, told VOA that growing IS threats have scared thousands of students away from schools.
“The ongoing clashes in Qoshtepa and Darzab districts have scared the local people. They refrain from sending their children to school, including schools that are in areas under the government control,” Yasheen said.
Yasheen added that thousands of boys and girls in Darzab district have been deprived of a chance to get education.
“Our schools are closed, IS controls parts of the district, there is no education,” Abdul Murad, a Darzab resident told VOA. “IS kills and does not let us send children to school.”
“Twenty five schools are under IS militant’s control and our teachers are unable to go and teach there,” Baz Mohammad Dawar, Darzab district’s chief said. “Parents have been warned by IS not to send their children to school.”
“Over 18,500 students are unable to attend school and that’s a catastrophe,” Dawar added.
At least two schools remain closed in neighboring Khanqah district as well.
The terror group has destroyed much of the education infrastructure in parts of the Jawzjan province.
In July, IS militants destroyed more than a dozen schools in Darzab, including a girls’ high school. The militants warned that an educational curriculum acceptable to IS must be taught in areas that the group controls, according to provincial education officials.
The terror group had also warned girls not to attend school. They make up 40 percent of students in the district’s 47 government-run schools.
Reza Ghafoori, a provincial spokesperson, told VOA that authorities are seeking to resolve the issue through mediation by local leaders who are trying to talk to IS militants to allow children to attend school. The efforts, however, have not yielded a positive outcome yet.
Islamic State’s self-styled Khorasan Province branch (IS-K) emerged in the mountainous areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan more than two years ago. The terror group has recently attracted hundreds of local militants to its ranks in northern Jawzjan and Sar-e-Pul provinces. Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban commander who switched his allegiance to IS a year ago, is said to lead IS-affiliated groups in the region. A large number of Central Asian fighters affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), previously associated with al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan, have joined the IS cause in the northern provinces.
IS and rival militants from the Taliban frequently fight for control of Darzab and Qoshtepa districts. Recent clashes between the two rival groups have resulted in the death of at least 30 militants from both sides, according to Faqir Mohammad Jawzjani, the provincial police chief in Jawzjan.
“Two days ago, the IS miitants set a school on fire in Qoshtepa and killed two local elders on charges of serving in the local police force,” Jouzjani told Radio Liberty.
The ongoing clashes have led hundreds of families to leave their homes. Most of the fleeing families have taken refuge in the provincial capital Sheberghan and live in dire conditions, according to Radio Liberty.
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Four children from Sudan whose parents are believed to have been killed fighting for Islamic State in the Libyan city of Sirte last year were handed over to the Sudanese consul on Sunday for return to their country.
Sirte was a stronghold for Islamic State from 2015-2016, when Libyan forces backed by U.S. air strikes ousted the ultra-hardline group. Hundreds of foreign militants joined Islamic State in Sirte.
Dozens of women and children detained towards the end of the fighting have been held in Misrata, the city from which the military campaign in Sirte was led.
They include nationals of Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Senegal, Chad, and Niger. Twenty-one Libyan children have been handed back to their families.
In June, eight children were handed over to the Sudanese authorities and returned to Sudan. Eleven other Sudanese women and children are still in Misrata.
The Red Crescent’s head of psychological support in Misrata, Salah Abuzreba, appealed to all countries “that haven’t responded until this moment to receive those children as a human act, so they can be returned to their relatives”.
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Ahmad Alkhald, a Syrian national from Aleppo who played a key role in the Islamic State (IS) terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, has been identified as a specially designated global terrorist by the United States, the U.S. State Department said.
The designation Thursday — which also included an Iraqi national who has provided close protection to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the IS leader in Iraq and Syria — imposed “strict sanctions” on the individuals and prohibited any dealings with them.
Alkhald is an IS bomb maker and the terror group’s explosives chief who helped carry out the November 2015 attacks in Paris and the March 2016 attacks in Brussels, the State Department statement said.
The series of the deadly terrorist attacks on several public places killed 130 people in Paris and 32 in Brussels.
Alkhald reportedly traveled to Europe, where he made the explosive vests used in the Paris attacks.
Island a gateway to Europe
According to French media, he crossed into Europe via the Greek island of Leros in September 2015. The island has been a gateway for some other IS attackers who have reportedly sneaked in among Syrians seeking refuge in Europe in the aftermath of the country’s civil war.
Alkhald returned to Syria shortly before the Paris attacks and continued helping other IS plots in Europe, including the March 2016 attacks in Brussels.
“Alkhald is wanted internationally and a European warrant for his arrest has been issued,” the statement said.
Abu Yahya al-Iraqi, also known as Iyad Hamed Mahl al-Jumaily, was the second individual identified as a specially designated global terrorist in Thursday’s statement.
Al-Iraqi is a senior IS figure close to al-Baghdadi, the terror group’s leader. He is reportedly a key IS leader in Iraq and Syria and has played a major role in providing security for al-Baghdadi.
The designation “notifies the U.S. public and the international community that Alkhald and al-Iraqi have committed or pose a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism,” the State Department said.
The statement said the designation and action by the State Department would help expose and isolate the two men, and help law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and around the world in their efforts against them.
A response to 9/11 attacks
Specially designated global terrorist (SDGT) is a designation established by the U.S. government in response to the September 11, 2001, attacks. Individuals designated as SDGTs are believed to pose a threat to U.S. national security by committing acts of terrorism.
The State Department has placed 272 individuals from different terrorist entities on the designation list, including 20 IS leaders and operatives.
“These designations are part of a larger comprehensive plan to defeat [IS] that, in coordination with the 73-member global coalition, has made significant progress toward this goal,” the State Department said.
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Suspected Islamic extremists opened fire at a Turkish restaurant in the capital of Burkina Faso late Sunday, killing at least 17 people in the second such attack on a restaurant popular with foreigners in the last two years.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the violence, which continued into the early hours Monday. Gunfire could be heard almost seven hours after the attack began.
Communication Minister Remi Dandjinou told journalists that at least 17 people were dead and eight others wounded, according to a provisional toll. The victims came from several different nationalities, he said.
Security forces arrived at the scene with armored vehicles after reports of shots fired near Aziz Istanbul, an upscale restaurant in Ouagadougou. The attack brought back painful memories of the January 2016 attack at another cafe that left 30 people dead.
Police Capt. Guy Ye said three or four assailants had arrived at the Aziz Istanbul restaurant on motorcycles, and then began shooting randomly at the crowds dining Sunday evening.
Burkina Faso, a landlocked nation in West Africa, is one of the poorest countries in the world. It shares a northern border with Mali, which has long battled Islamic extremists.
The three attackers in the 2016 massacre were of foreign origin, according to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which claimed responsibility in the aftermath along with the jihadist group known as Al Mourabitoun. But the terror threat in Burkina Faso is increasingly homegrown, experts say.
The northern border region is now the home of a local preacher, Ibrahim Malam Dicko, who radicalized and has claimed recent deadly attacks against troops and civilians. His association, Ansarul Islam, is now considered a terrorist group by Burkina Faso’s government.
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Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai was greeted with cheers Tuesday by dozens of young women in northeastern Nigeria, where she spoke out for the many girls abducted under Boko Haram’s deadly insurgency.
The Pakistani activist, 20, told The Associated Press she was excited by the courage of the young women who are undaunted as they pursue an education amid one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
“This is part of my girl power trip, visiting many parts of the world,” said Yousafzai, who also met with the freed Chibok schoolgirls taken in a mass abduction by Boko Haram more than three years ago. “I am here now because of the Nigerian girls, fighting for them and speaking up for them.”
Yousafzai visited internally displaced camps in and around Maiduguri, where thousands have sheltered from Boko Haram’s violence. The extremist group continues to carry out deadly attacks there, often using young female suicide bombers.
Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, center right, visits a school in Maiduguri, Nigeria, July. 18, 2017. The Nobel Peace laureate spoke out for the many girls abducted under Boko Haram’s deadly insurgency.
“They have lived in the period of extremism,” Yousafzai said of the young women around her. Many have seen family members killed.
Shot by Taliban
Yousafzai was 15 when she shot in the head by Taliban militants in 2012, targeted because of her advocacy for women’s education.
The Nobel winner said her Nigeria visit was significant because it was the partial fulfillment of what she advocated the last time she was there. In 2014, she pressed then-President Goodluck Jonathan to ensure the rescue of the more than 200 abducted Chibok schoolgirls.
On Monday, Yousafzai met with more than 100 who have since been rescued and now stay in the capital, Abuja, for what the government calls rehabilitation.
While she told the AP she shared their joy at being freed, she said she was not happy that the girls haven’t been allowed to reunite fully with their families.
She said she hoped they would “live with their family, live a normal life.”
Many others remain in Boko Haram captivity, “and the government must unite so that they should make sure that these girls are released,” Yousafzai said.
“Boko Haram themselves should learn that in Islam, such things are unacceptable,” she added. “This is against humanity, this is against Islam.”
Nigerian activist Amina Yusuf, left, Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai and acting Nigerian President Yemi Osinbajo are pictured at the presidential villa, in Abuja, July. 17, 2017.
Yousafzai also met Monday with acting President Yemi Osinbajo, speaking up for the more than 10 million children displaced by Boko Haram and pressing for the declaration of a state of emergency for education in Nigeria.
She also urged the international community to address the crisis in the country’s northeast.
Inspired by visitor
Girls at the internally displaced camps said the Nobel winner’s story of courage gave them inspiration for a brighter future.
“Her story gives us hope. That’s why we, too, want to go to school and become something in life,” said Fatima Ali, 15. “We have to bear all pains like hunger to go to school. We barely eat once a day here. We have not eaten since morning because government people no longer bring us food for about two months now.”
Three million children in Nigeria’s northeast are in need of support to keep learning, according to the U.N. children’s agency. Nearly 1,400 schools have been destroyed during Boko Haram’s insurgency, which began in 2009, and more than 2,295 teachers have been killed, the agency says.
Ali said she was in school when Boko Haram attacked her town three years ago. “I want to become a soldier so that I could help my community to fight and kill Boko Haram, because they are not good people,” she said.
Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, far right, speaks with schoolgirls in Maiduguri, Nigeria, July. 18, 2017.
Another student, Fatima Grema, 15, said she saw herself in Yousafzai.
“Boko Haram abducted me and wanted to marry me,” she said. After being taken from the town of Baga to a location near the Cameroon border, “I later managed to escape,” she said. “I was not in school until I came to the camp here.”
Grema said she now wants to become a teacher.
UNICEF’s country representative, Mohamed Malick Fall, said Yousafzai’s visit was a symbol of hope, and “we will do everything in our power to make sure all children can keep learning.”
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“Sir, my father was an Islamic State militant, but he divorced my mother in 2013,” said Jassem Mohammad, 21, pulling out his identification card and presenting it to the camp manager. “He now has two other wives.”
In a tiny patch of shade on the edge of a blistering desert camp outside of Mosul, the manager listened as Mohammad made his case. He wanted to leave the camp and go back to college. He had good scores, he said, and was never involved with IS.
Militant rule in Mosul has collapsed and IS fighters here are dead, fled, arrested or in hiding. But as their relatives try to re-integrate into society, Iraqi authorities face impossible questions with only bad answers.
If someone loved or even tolerated an IS militant, is that person guilty? How do the relatives of the perpetrators make peace with the relatives of the victims?
Medics at this collection point for fleeing families treat a baby for malnutrition, which they say is widespread among children in Mosul, Iraq, on July 12, 2017
Officially in Iraq, the answer to the first question is “no,” especially when speaking of small children. Women and children fleeing areas IS occupied are checked for bombs, and when cleared, they are considered civilians.
Unofficially, families of militants are shunned, feared and often separated from the “regular” people, all traumatized by violence and extreme poverty under IS. Many IS families now live in camps, like Mohammad, where they are not quite sure if they are being detained or protected. And both, in fact, are true.
“We’d need to see the divorce papers,” the camp manager explained to Mohammad. If Mohammad offered evidence that his father was not in his life during IS rule in Mosul, it might be possible for him to go back to school.
“I want to study and do humanitarian work,” Mohammad continued, pleading his case to a nearby journalist.
As Mohammad and the reporter chatted, the camp manager looked nonplused and strolled away. A security officer, in contrast, was visibly annoyed and abruptly ended the conversation.
“You cannot talk to him without official permission,” he said, ushering all journalists out of the camp. Other Iraqi officers said they worry that news about camps set aside for IS families will make them look like monsters, locking up women and children.
“What can we do as the Iraqi government?” said a member of a community police force who didn’t want to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “We are exposed to danger. They are families, but we can’t loose them without rehabilitation.”
Distrust on all sides
Inside the city, at the base of a long-dormant Ferris wheel, a short row of tents served as a collection point for families fleeing Mosul in the final days of battle.
Women and children filed into the tents, some collapsing where they sat. Medics treated injuries and food and water alleviated some of the most pressing pains. Many of the people had been hiding in basements for weeks, after months of water shortages. The smell of unwashed bodies was pungent and the heat in the stagnant tents was overwhelming.
“We were imprisoned,” said Khalifa, 46, a mother of three. Unlike the rest of the women in the tent, she wore no veil and her curly hair was tousled. “We tried to run away and militants locked us in a basement. For the past three days we’ve had no food or water.”
“Once they brought us food in the basement,” adds Hoda, 25, her daughter. “He came down wearing a suicide vest.”
Their story echoed tales from families all over Mosul and, even if their husbands or fathers were IS fighters, it could still be true. However, local authorities worried they were lying, casting themselves as victims, rather than somehow complicit.
In Old Mosul, dead IS militants are scattered in houses and on the streets and the smell is overwhelming in 45-plus degree Celsius weather on July 13, 2017 in Mosul.
One man peppered Hoda with questions about the neighborhood she said she was from. IS militants in Mosul were often not stationed near their original homes. Hoda failed to identify the most famous church, mosque and graveyard in the area.
“See, they are an IS family,” the man said. “They are lying.”
Another woman, Fatima, a mother of eight, said for relatives of IS omitting certain truths is a matter of survival. Sitting with an intelligence official, Fatima admitted she had two brothers that fought with IS. Both, she said, are now dead and she never supported their decision to join IS.
But when the officer walked away, she said at least one of her brothers is alive and now in Tal Afar, an Iraqi city still held by IS.
“We are afraid to tell them when we talk to family members who are with IS,” she whispered. “We don’t want to be blamed for what they did.”
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Afghanistan says it will begin blocking all online activity and websites linked to terror groups or extremists later this week, under terms of a cybercrime bill the government signed into law last month.
The Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology said it is gathering a list of websites linked to terror groups or their supporters, based on information from the National Intelligence Directorate (NDS) and the Ministry of Information and Culture.
Najib Nangyal, a ministry spokesperson, said website-blocking will begin this Saturday, as authorized by the National Cyber Security Strategy of Afghanistan (NCSA) and the new Cyber Crimes Act.
Voice of concern
A dissenting voice has been raised by the nongovernmental organization Nai, Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan. The group opposes the new cybercrime law on the grounds that it limits freedom of expression and access to information.
Telecommunications ministry spokesperson Nangyal denied those charges in a statement to VOA’s Ashna radio.
The new criminal law that President Ashraf Ghani signed last Friday contains 27 articles related to prohibited cyberactivities. It is the first comprehensive attempt to catalog cybercrimes and violations in 15 years, a period during which online activity in the country expanded greatly.
Internet services for 6 million
Although parts of Afghanistan are still ravaged by war, the country of 32 million people now has internet services capable of serving 6 million people. A lack of cyber regulations, meanwhile, has allowed terrorists and extremist groups to continue working online, the government said.
Media rights group Nai, established in 2005 with the support of the Internews network, is currently supported by funds from USAID, the U.S. international development agency. Mojib Khalwatgar, head of Nai, said his agency is concerned about vague and undefined terms used in much of the law, and in particular on its potential effect upon journalists.
Nai’s statement of “general beliefs” about the new law says it appears to potentially criminalize any exchange of data or software from one computer to another, and that any normal activity by an organization’s information technology staff could be construed to be a criminal act.
Mohammad Ahmadi contributed to this report
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An Indian man on death row in Pakistan after a military court sentenced him on charges of espionage, sabotage and terrorism has appealed to the country’s army chief for clemency.
India had earlier appealed to the International Court of Justice, the highest legal body under the United Nations, in the case of Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav. India said Pakistan had sentenced an innocent Indian citizen without granting him diplomatic access, which is in violation of an international treaty.
The court ordered Pakistan last month to delay Jadhav’s execution until the final verdict.
Pakistan says Jadhav confessed to being an Indian spy working to disrupt the development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a network of railways and roads that is part of the larger One Belt One Road Initiative launched by China.
In a 10-minute video released by the military, the second of its kind, Jadhav said his activities were designed to support separatist groups in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province to “raise the level of insurgency.”
A news release by the Pakistan military’s public relations wing said Jadhav had “expressed remorse” over lives lost and damage caused by his actions and asked for mercy on “compassionate grounds.”
According to authorities, Jadhav claimed to have had a hand in sectarian violence, targeting Shi’ite Muslims, that had plagued Pakistan for a while.
Center of conflict
Balochistan has long been the center of a conflict between separatist insurgents and Pakistan’s military. It is also along the route of China’s planned economic corridor, which involves an investment of upward of $50 billion. The success of the project depends upon securing the routes.
Tensions between India and neighboring Pakistan, both nuclear-armed countries, have been high since a heavily armed group attacked an Indian air force base in Pathankot early last year. India blamed Pakistan-based militants for the attack.
The two sides have also been exchanging intermittent fire along the Line of Control, the de facto border in the disputed Kashmir region.