KARACHI: A motorcycle rigged with explosives rammed into a bus carrying Shias in Karachi Friday, killing 11 people and wounding 40 in the second such attack in Pakistan’s financial capital in two months.
The attack, in a city largely isolated from bombings concentrated in northwest Pakistan but with a history of sectarian tensions and political violence, underscored the security challenges facing the country.
“Eleven people have been martyred and 40 injured. There are children and women among the killed and wounded,” Doctor Seemi Jamal, the chief of Jinnah Hospital in Karachi, told AFP.
The bus was carrying Shia Muslim mourners to participate in a religious procession to mark the end of the holy month of Muharram in Karachi, a city of 16 million people.
“The bus was carrying Shia mourners. It was full of people and a motorcycle rammed into the bus. The motorcycle was completely destroyed and the bus was heavily damaged,” police official Shahid Hasan told AFP.
City police chief Waseem Ahmad told reporters that the motorcycle was rigged with an improvised-explosive device (IED). It remained unclear whether the motorcycle was being driven by anyone when it struck the bus.
The attack happened on the bridge of the main Faisal highway in the centre of Karachi, shattering windows in nearby buildings, said an AFP reporter.
Ambulances raced through the streets as volunteers helped to evacuate the wounded and armed security forces patrolled the area, television footage showed.
On December 28, a massive bombing killed 43 people at a parade marking the holiest Shia day of Ashura earlier in the month of Muharram.
Pakistan’s feared Taliban network claimed responsibility for that attack, sparking riots that caused huge financial losses.
Security forces were on high alert in Karachi with a wave of political violence killing at least 37 activists from rival parties in the last five days, following 48 similar killings last month.
The Awami National Party (ANP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which have a history of bitter relations, both claim their workers have been shot dead.
The two parties belong to the local governing coalition in southern province Sindh, of which Karachi is the capital, and which is led by President Asif Ali Zardari’s main ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
MQM represents Muslims who migrated from India after independence and is Karachi’s dominant party. ANP represents an estimated two million Pashtuns who have migrated to Karachi from northwest Pakistan.
Pakistan has seen a recent decline in militant attacks, attributed both to the success of a US drone war and Pakistani offensives in the tribal belt shadowing the Afghan border where Taliban and Al-Qaeda networks are based.
Last month, 153 people were killed by militants in Pakistan — nearly half the 275 killed in October, according to an AFP tally.
WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama Tuesday lashed US intelligence Tuesday for missing “red flags” in the Arabian peninsula that could have disrupted a plot to blow up a US-bound plane and vowed to stop future lapses.
“It is increasingly clear that intelligence was not fully analyzed or fully leveraged,” Obama said in a terse televised statement. “That’s not acceptable, and I will not tolerate it.” He was speaking after meeting US spy chiefs and top national security aides at the White House to discuss two probes into the attempt to blow up a Northwest airliner as it approached Detroit on December 25.
“The bottom line is this — the US government had sufficient information to have uncovered this plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack, but our intelligence community failed to connect those dots,” Obama said.
“When a suspected terrorist is able to board a plane with explosives on Christmas Day, the system has failed in a potentially disastrous way,” he said.
“It’s my responsibility to find out why, and to correct that failure so that we can prevent such attacks in the future.” The findings showed US intelligence missed other “red flags” in the Arabian peninsula as well as the already revealed fact that the top suspect, 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was an extremist who had traveled to Yemen, Obama said.
Sanaa has been under increasing pressure in recent days to deal with an Al-Qaeda cell in the country which has claimed to be behind the plot to blow up the plane mid-air. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has also urged attacks on Western interests in Yemen.
The US embassy in Yemen reopened Tuesday after a two-day closure prompted by fears of an attack as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned unrest in the Arab country was a threat to global stability.
The US embassy said on its website that Yemeni security forces had addressed a “specific area of concern” in the north of the capital Sanaa on Monday, paving the way for the reopening.But full services at the British, French and Japanese embassies have yet to resume.
Investigations spanning from west Africa to Europe to the Middle East have been trying to piece together the would-be bomber’s whereabouts and actions leading up to the Christmas Day attack, foiled when the explosives failed to detonate properly.
Dutch prosecutors said Tuesday Abdulmutallab had probably obtained the explosives, which were stitched into his underwear, before he arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport where he boarded the US-bound flight.
White House said earlier he had been providing useful leads during his interrogations by the FBI as he awaits his arraignment on Friday in Detroit.
“Abdulmutallab spent a number of hours with FBI investigators in which we gleaned usable, actionable intelligence,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
The United States has unleashed a barrage of measures to stop would-be attackers riding planes into the country, overhauling its terror watchlists and adding dozens more suspects to “no-fly” lists.
Further boosting security measures, all travelers coming from or via 14 “terror linked” countries will have to undergo compulsory enhanced screening.
US officials also revealed that “additional visas” had been revoked since the Christmas Day, but gave no details of how many or which countries the applicants were from.
“Additional visas have been revoked for people that we believe have suspected ties to terrorism,” US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters.
Nigeria, one of the 14 countries on the security list, on Tuesday protested the new rules. “I made it clear, through the US ambassador, to the US government that this is unacceptable to Nigeria,” Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe told journalists.
EU security experts will meet in Brussels on Thursday to discuss the US emergency travel measures, amid privacy and health concerns over broader use of full body scanners.
Obama said, meanwhile, it had been decided not to transfer any more Guantanamo Bay prisoners to Yemen for now due to the “unsettled situation”there.
“But make no mistake. We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda,” Obama said.
The Obama administration has been under intense pressure from domestic critics and some friendly lawmakers not to send any more inmates back to Yemen, because of fears they will slip into extremism. — AFP
WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama is wrapping up deliberations on war strategy in Afghanistan and is considering final Pentagon options that include sending about 30,000 more troops, officials said on Saturday.
A deployment of that size would be less than the 40,000-troop increase recommended by Gen Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, but more than many of Obama’s Democratic allies may support.
Record combat deaths have eroded US public support for the war, and a decision to expand troop levels could become a political liability for the president ahead of congressional elections next year.
Currently, there are about 67,000 US troops and 40,000 allied forces in Afghanistan.
Under one of the final Pentagon options presented to the White House, three additional combat brigades would be deployed and a division headquarters set up near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, as part of a 30,000-troop increase.
US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mr Obama had settled on a troop increase but has yet to make up his mind about its size.
Brigades generally include 3,500 to 4,000 troops, though they can swell to over 5,000 troops if other units are attached. Marine brigades can be larger.
Mr Obama, who will visit Asia from Nov 12-19, is expected to announce his decision within a few weeks, possibly after Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s inauguration. Mr Karzai was re-elected in a controversial poll tainted by fraud.
The timing may hinge on the extent to which Mr Karzai embraces US and European calls for a pact under which his government would commit to taking concrete steps to fight corruption and improve governance, including the delivery of public services.
Washington believes a successful counter-insurgency strategy against the Taliban hinges in large part on winning Afghan public support for the government in Kabul.
But Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said earlier this week that the re-elected president’s legitimacy among the Afghan people was ‘at best, in question right now and, at worst, doesn’t exist.’
Options on table
Senior Obama administration officials have stepped up consultations with key allies, laying the ground for an announcement on strategy and troop levels.
In his confidential troop request, Gen McChrystal said 40,000 additional troops were needed to help secure Afghan population centres and to give Nato some additional resources to take on Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters in outlying areas.
Another option, deemed more risky by Gen McChrystal, calls for between 10,000 and 15,000 more troops, which would enable the commander to focus on securing population centres but provide few additional resources to broaden the anti-Taliban campaign.
A third option – to send an additional 80,000 troops to mount a more robust counter-insurgency campaign against the Taliban across the country – was widely seen as a non-starter from the onset of the White House review.
Support for continuing a counter-insurgency strategy with a greater focus on protecting major Afghan population centres has been growing within the Obama administration.
Counter-insurgency advocates include Defence Secretary Robert Gates and military leaders, including Gen McChrystal. Officials said this strategy could be combined with a stepped up counter-terrorism campaign, advocated by Vice President Joe Biden, using unmanned aerial drones and special operations forces to combat Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters in the Afghan countryside and near the border with Pakistan. — Reuters.
PESHAWAR: A car bomb tore through a packed market in Peshawar on Wednesday, killing 95 people and trapping casualties under pulverised shops, in one of Pakistan’s deadliest attacks.
The explosion detonated in a crowded street in the Meena Bazaar of Peshawar, one of the most congested parts of the volatile northwest city, sparking a huge blaze and ending in carnage routine shopping trips for scores of people.
The attack underscored the scale of the militant threat in Pakistan just hours after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Islamabad for three days of talks with political and military leaders.
‘There was a huge blast. There was smoke and dust everywhere. I saw people dying and screaming on the road,’ witness Mohammad Siddique told AFP.
Angry flames leapt out of burning wreckage and smoke billowed in the air as a building collapsed into dust and rubble. Police evacuated panicked residents from the smouldering wreckage and firemen hosed down the flames.
‘It was a car bomb. Some people are still trapped in a building. We are trying to rescue them,’ bomb disposal official Shafqat Malik told reporters.
‘We have received 86 dead bodies, 213 people were injured, we are facing a shortage of blood,’ Doctor Hamid Afridi, head of the Peshawar’s main Lady Reading Hospital told AFP as staff declared an emergency.
A hospital official outside the casualty wing made a public announcement, appealing on people to donate blood as doctors spoke of harrowing scenes.
‘There are body parts. There are people. There are burnt people. There are dead bodies. There are wounded, I’m not in a position to count. But my estimate is that the death toll may rise to 70,’ said Doctor Muslim Khan.
Rescue workers and government officials had warned that casualties were trapped under collapsed shops at the bomb site, where a large blaze, a toppled building and the narrow streets hampered the relief effort.
‘I am counting the dead bodies, 86 are confirmed dead, the injured are more than 200, there are children and women among the dead,’ Mohammad Gul, a police official at the hospital, told AFP.
The area was one of the most congested parts of Peshawar and full of women’s clothing shops and general market stalls popular in the city of 2.5 million.
‘A building structure has collapsed… People are trapped in the fire and buildings. This is the most congested area of the city,’ Sahibzada Mohammad Anees, a senior local administrative official, told a private TV channel.
Peshawar, a teeming metropolis, is a gateway to Pakistan’s northwest tribal belt, where the military is pressing a major offensive against Pakistani Taliban militants blamed for some of the worst of the recent carnage.
Tensions have soared across Pakistan following a spike in violence blamed on Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked extremists in which more than 240 people have died this month.
PHOENIX: US President Barack Obama says Al-Qaeda and its allies have shifted their bases from Afghanistan to the remote, tribal areas of Pakistan.
The US President said that terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan cannot be eradicated in a short time span.
Speaking at the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in Phoenix, Arizona, Obama said that the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan would enable Al-Qaeda to plan similar attacks to that of 9/11.
He reiterated that the war on terror is necessary for the defence of the people.
According to the US president the perpetrators of 9/11 are planning more attacks and if left unchecked the Taliban insurgency will mean the creation of larger safe havens from which Al-Qaeda could plot to kill more Americans.
‘As I said when I announced this strategy, there will be more difficult days ahead. The insurgency in Afghanistan didn’t just happen overnight, and we won’t defeat it overnight. This will not be quick. This will not be easy.’
‘But we must never forget: This is not a war of choice; this is a war of necessity.’
‘Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which Al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defence of our people,’ said the US president.
KHOST: Afghan and US-led forces killed up to 34 Taliban insurgents in fighting on the border with Pakistan overnight, the Afghan government and US military said Thursday.
Security forces had been tipped off about a gathering of militants in the eastern province of Paktika and had launched a ground attack and air strikes, an Afghan government official said.
‘In course of the operation 34 Taliban were killed,’ provincial government spokesman Hameedullah Zhohak told AFP.
The US military confirmed the battle and said its initial figures were that 29 militants were killed.
The troops wanted to capture a commander in the radical Haqqani network, Technical Sergeant Chuck Marsh told AFP.
‘Battle damage assessment is continuing but at least 29 militants have been killed,’ he told AFP from the US military media office in Kabul.
The network, part of the Taliban, was established by Afghan Soviet resistance commander Jalaluddin Haqqani but is now believed to be led by his sons, notably Siraj Haqqani, and is said to be close to Al-Qaeda.
KANDAHAR: Afghan and international forces killed 22 Taliban insurgents in the troubled south of the country during several hours of fierce fighting, police said on Sunday.
The rebels ambushed a joint Afghan and foreign forces patrol in Shinkay district of Zabul province late Saturday, sparking the exchange, provincial police chief Abdul Rehman Sarjang told AFP.
‘Twenty-two Taliban were killed. The militants left the bodies behind. Four are Pakistani nationals and the rest are Afghans,’ he said.
Sarjang added the international forces called in air support after the ambush. There were no casualties to the joint forces.
His figure for the Taliban casualties could not be independently verified.
The US military released a statement saying it had killed four Taliban in the same area, also on Saturday. It was unclear if it was the same incident.
There are more than 70,000 international troops under NATO and US command in Afghanistan helping in the fight against the insurgents.
The Taliban rose from southern Afghanistan to sweep into government in Kabul in 1996. They were ousted in a US-led invasion in late 2001 that sent many of their leaders and Al-Qaeda allies into sanctuaries across in Pakistan.
ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud lacks the capacity to attack the United States and a threat to do so reflected the aims of his al Qaeda allies, analysts said on Thursday.
Mehsud, accused of orchestrating a string of attacks in Pakistan from the Waziristan region on the Afghan border, warned on Tuesday that Washington may be attacked for offering $5 million for information leading to his location or arrest.
‘He normally doesn’t issue hollow threats,’ said retired Brigadier Mehmood Shah, a former chief of security in militant-plagued northwest Pakistan.
Over the past few years, Mehsud has risen from obscurity to become Pakistan’s most notorious militant commander, blamed for the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
Because of his attacks and leadership qualities, al Qaeda was increasingly dealing directly with him, Shah told Reuters.
‘He seems to have convinced al Qaeda he’s a useful man … When he speaks of a threat to Washington, he means al Qaeda. By himself, he doesn’t have the capacity to carry out an operation so far away. He’s talking for al Qaeda,’ he said.
General David Petraeus, head of US Central Command, said in Washington on Wednesday officials were studying whether Mehsud’s warning posed a credible threat to the United States.
‘Everyone is quite riveted on analysing that and seeing what further we can find out,’ Petraeus said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Mehsud, who reportedly has links with the Taliban in Afghanistan and sends fighters to target Western forces there, issued his warning while announcing that his group carried out an assault on a police academy in Lahore on Monday that killed eight cadets.
Mehsud said the attack was in retaliation for US drone attacks on militants in Pakistan. He vowed more attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as in the United States.
A patchwork of militant factions is based in northwest Pakistan’s ethnic Pashtun border lands.
Khadim Hussain of the Aryana Institute think-tank said the factions, including Mehsud’s, were increasingly united in a network that looked to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who is believed to be hiding in the area, as supreme leader.
While Mehsud alone was not capable of launching a strike in the United States, he might be able to activate al Qaeda’s global network through the militant alliance. Mehsud was not speaking for himself when he issued his threat, Hussain said.
‘He’s giving voice to this network and probably he’s been taking some kind of clues and suggestions from them,’ he said.
Analysts said Mehsud’s threat was also aimed at driving a wedge between Pakistan and the United States, where frustration has been growing with what is seen as Pakistan’s failure to stop militants crossing into Afghanistan
US military commanders have also made public accusations that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence has maintained ties with groups close to al Qaeda and the Taliban.
‘He knows there is a lot of resentment against Pakistan in the United States and he wants to add to that,’ said security analyst Ikram Sehgal.
‘Clearly, it’s black propaganda. He has managed to spook the Pakistanis at the same time creating hatred against Pakistan. I think that was the idea,’ he said.
The US State Department has described Mehsud as a clear threat to American interests in the region. In his testimony, Petraeus said the cross-border reach of Mehsud’s group was questionable, but he added the threat would be taken seriously.
WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday offered $ 5 million each for information leading to Baitullah Mehsud and for Sirajuddin Haqqani and $1 million for Abu Yahya al-Libi.
The offer, announced two days before the unveiling of the new US strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, indicates hardening of Washington’s stance against the militants hiding along the Pak-Afghan border.
But reports attributed to senior US officials also indicate a willingness to include ‘reconcilable’ militants in the new peace process to be announced by President Barak Obama on Friday.
While the United States has previously offered large cash rewards for terrorism suspects in the past as well, until recently they regarded Mehsud mainly as a threat to Pakistan.
Previous US drone attacks had avoided targeting Mehsud’s hideouts but this changed earlier this month when US drones also began to target Mehsud and his men.
The change reflects a US desire to work closely with Pakistan for eradicating all extremists, whether they target Pakistan or the United States.
On Wednesday afternoon, the US Department of State issued three brief statements, saying that it’s offering lucrative cash awards for information about the three suspects under its Rewards for Justice Programme. The programme offers cash rewards for information leading to the arrest, and/or conviction of dangerous criminals.
The State Department identified Baitullah Mehsud as the senior leader of the Taliban Movement of Pakistan. The statement noted that Mehsud is regarded as a key al Qaeda facilitator in South Waziristan. ‘Pakistani authorities believe that the January 2007 suicide attack against the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad was staged by militants loyal to Mehsud,’ the statement said.
‘Press reports also have linked Mehsud to the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the deaths of other innocent civilians,’ the State Department noted.
The US government pointed out that Mehsud has also stated his intention to attack the United States. He has conducted cross-border attacks against US forces in Afghanistan, and poses a clear threat to American persons and interests in the region.
‘The United States is determined to bring Baitullah Mehsud to justice. We encourage anyone with information on Mehsud’s location to contact the nearest US embassy or consulate, any US military commander, or the Rewards for Justice staff,’ the department said.
Another statement, announced a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the location, arrest, and/or conviction of Sirajuddin Haqqani. Sirajuddin Haqqani is a senior leader of ‘the Haqqani terrorist network’ founded by his father Jalaladin Haqqani. He maintains close ties to al Qaeda.
During an interview with an American news organisation, Haqqani admitted planning the Jan. 14, 2008 attack against the Serena Hotel in Kabul that killed six people, including American citizen Thor David Hesla.
Haqqani also admitted planning the April 2008 assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He has coordinated and participated in cross-border attacks against US and Coalition forces in Afghanistan.
‘Sirajuddin Haqqani is believed to be located in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan,’ the State Department said.
The US government also authorised a reward of up to $1 million for information leading to Abu Yahya al-Libi, a prominent member of al Qaeda.
The State Department identified al-Libi as an Islamic scholar and a Libyan citizen who was captured by authorities in 2002 and imprisoned at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan.
Al-Libi escaped in July 2005, and has since appeared in a number of propaganda videos, using his religious training to influence people and legitimise the actions of al Qaeda.
The State Department noted that al-Libi was a key motivator in the global jihadi movement and his messages ‘convey a clear threat to US persons or property worldwide.’ Al-Libi is believed to be in hiding in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Since its inception in 1984, the Rewards for Justice Programme has paid more than $80 million to more than 50 persons who provided credible information that has resulted in the capture or death of terrorists or prevented acts of international terrorism.