4 Policemen Killed, 11 Injured In Blast In Pakistan

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE KASHMIR OBSERVER)

 

4 Policemen Killed, 11 Injured In Blast In Pakistan

Pakistani volunteers shift an injured victim into the hospital after the bomb blast in Quetta | AFP
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ISLAMABAD — A powerful remote-controlled bomb blast near a mosque in Pakistan’s Balochistan province has killed four policemen and injured 11 others, the second major attack to rock the restive region in the last three days.

The explosion occurred on Monday night when people were assembling for prayers near the mosque in the provincial capital Quetta’s Satellite Town area.

The attack took place shortly after a police van arrived at the site to provide security to the people offering prayers at the mosque.

“The police vehicle carrying personnel for mosque security was targeted in the blast in which our four personnel of Rapid Response Group (RRG) lost their lives, while the condition of another was stated to be serious,” said Quetta Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Razzaq Cheema.

Another 11 people were injured in the attack, Provincial Home Minister Ziaullah Langov said.

This was the second major terrorist attack in Balochistan within the last three days.

Three heavily-armed militants on Saturday stormed a luxury hotel in Pakistan’s port city of Gwadar in the restive Balochistan province, killing eight persons, including a Pakistan Navy soldier and three militants.

An improvised explosive device planted in a motorcycle went off close to the police van. Sources said unidentified people parked the explosive-laden motorbike near the mosque in Satellite Town area and detonated it by remote control when the police van arrived there, the Dawn reported.

“Three police officials among the injured died soon after being brought here at the hospital,” officials at a healthcare facility said.

Many vehicles parked in the area were damaged and window panes of nearby buildings were shattered due to the powerful blast, though the mosque remained safe in the attack.

Security forces have cordoned off the area and launched a search operation to trace those involved in the blast.

The banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan has claimed responsibility for the motorcycle bomb blast targeting the police vehicle, the report said.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has strongly condemned the targeted attack.

Khan has sought a report on the blast and said the country was fully committed to completely eliminating terrorism.

The prime minister said those who target innocent people in the holy month of Ramadan did not have a religion.

The nation’s spirit is strong and Pakistan is determined to do away with the menace of terrorism, he said.

Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan has also condemned the attack.

“Efforts are being made to sabotage peace under a wicked conspiracy. Those creating instability would be fought back with full force,” he said.

Vowing to improve the security arrangements, the chief minister also directed the concerned authorities to provide the best medical facilities to the wounded persons.

Saudi Islamic scholar arrested over Easter bombings in Sri Lanka

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Saudi scholar arrested over Easter bombings in Sri Lanka

Mohamed Aliyar, 60, is the founder of the Centre for Islamic Guidance, which boasts a mosque, a religious school and a library in Zahran’s hometown of Kattankudy, a Muslim-dominated city on Sri Lanka’s eastern shores.

WORLD Updated: May 13, 2019 10:46 IST

Reuters
Reuters
Kattakudy, Sri Lanka
The government says Zahran, a radical Tamil-speaking preacher, was a leader of the group.(AFP FILE/ Representative Image)

Sri Lankan authorities have arrested a Saudi-educated scholar for what they claim are links with Zahran Hashim, the suspected ringleader of the Easter Sunday bombings, throwing a spotlight on the rising influence of Salafi-Wahhabi Islam on the island’s Muslims.

Mohamed Aliyar, 60, is the founder of the Centre for Islamic Guidance, which boasts a mosque, a religious school and a library in Zahran’s hometown of Kattankudy, a Muslim-dominated city on Sri Lanka’s eastern shores.

“Information has been revealed that the suspect arrested had a close relationship with … Zahran and had been operating financial transactions,” said a police statement late on Friday.

The statement said Aliyar was “involved” with training in the southern town of Hambantota for the group of suicide bombers who attacked hotels and churches on Easter, killing over 250 people.

A police spokesman declined to provide details on the accusations.

Calls to Aliyar and his associates went unanswered. Reuters was unable to find contact details for a lawyer.

The government says Zahran, a radical Tamil-speaking preacher, was a leader of the group.

Two Muslim community sources in Kattankudy told Reuters his hardline views were partly shaped by ultra-conservative Salafi-Wahhabi texts that he picked up at the Centre for Islamic Guidance’s library around 2-3 years ago. The sources are not affiliated with the centre.

“I used to always run into him at the centre, reading Saudi journals and literature,” said one of the sources.

During that time, Zahran started criticising the practice of asking God for help, for instance, arguing that such pleas were an affront to pure Islam.

“That kind of teaching was not in Sri Lanka in 2016, unless you read it in Salafi literature,” the source added, requesting anonymity to avoid repercussions in Kattankudy.

Salafism, a puritanical interpretation of Islam that advocates a return to the values of the first three generations of Muslims and is closely linked to Wahhabism, has often been criticised as the ideology of radical Islamists worldwide.

Wahhabi Islam has its roots in Saudi Arabia and is backed by its rulers, although Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has committed the kingdom to a more moderate form of Islam.

Other than the fact that Zahran visited the centre, the sources in Kattankudy said they did not know of any personal ties between him and Aliyar.

Aliyar founded the centre in 1990, a year after he graduated from the Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, in what one resident said marked a key moment in the spread of Salafi doctrine in Kattankudy. The centre was partly funded by Saudi and Kuwaiti donors, according to a plaque outside.

TROUBLEMAKER

Reuters spoke to three members of the centre’s board before Aliyar’s arrest. They asked to remain anonymous, citing security concerns amid a backlash against some Muslims.

They said Zahran was a troublemaker and that they had warned authorities about his extremist views. The members said they thought Zahran frequented the library around a decade ago, but had no recollection of him visiting recently and denied that any of its books were to blame for his views.

Funding for the center came from local donations, student fees, and private donors who were classmates of Aliyar’s in Riyadh, the centre’s sources said. Reuters was unable to immediately determine further details about the funding of the centre.

The Saudi government communications office in Riyadh did not respond to requests for comment on the funding of the centre.

(Additional reporting by Stephen Kalin in Riyadh and Ranga Sirilal in Colombo; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

First Published: May 12, 2019 14:25 IST

Pak blinks, offers ‘moratorium’ on artillery firing to ease LoC tensions

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Pak blinks, offers ‘moratorium’ on artillery firing to ease LoC tensions

Pakistan has offered to remove its Special Service Group (SSG) – the special forces of Pakistan – from the LoC and even suggested a “moratorium on the artillery fire from both sides,” a report sent to the Prime Minister’s Office said.

INDIA Updated: May 11, 2019 16:31 IST

Sudhi Ranjan Sen
Sudhi Ranjan Sen
Hindustan times, New Delhi
LoC tension,Pakistan,Special Service group
The government had warned the Indian Army and especially the Corps Commanders to take “adequate precautions” to prevent cross-border raids by the Pakistani army after the Pulwama suicide attack. (Photo by Nitin Kanotra / Hindustan Times)

Islamabad has blinked first in the staring battle along the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border between India and Pakistan. Under sustained pressure from India, Pakistan has offered to de-escalate tensions along the LoC . The offer to India was made by the Pakistani military “through the institutionalised military channels of communication between the two sides,” a senior official in the Indian security establishment said on condition of anonymity.

The Directors General of Military Operations (DGMOs) of the two countries are regularly in touch and HT learns that the offer may have come during such an interaction.

Pakistan has offered to remove its Special Service Group (SSG) – the special forces of Pakistan – from the LoC and even suggested a “moratorium on the artillery fire from both sides,” a report sent to the Prime Minister’s Office said. HT has seen a copy of the report.

After the Pulwama suicide car bomb attack by a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist on February 26, which left 40 troopers of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) dead and led to the subsequent air strikes by the Indian Air Force on Jaish’s training camp at Balakot in Pakistan, Islamabad moved special forces and troops along the LoC and the border and “maintained a precautionary deployment”.

India’s pressure on Pakistan was not just along the border, but diplomatic as well. With the US, UK, and France backing India, China agreed to remove its so-called “technical hold” on declaring Maulana Masood Azhar, the emir of JeM, a global terrorist by the United Nations Security Council. Simultaneously, India is also pushing the Financial Action Taskforce (FATF), a global body that watches money laundering and terror funding, to blacklist Pakistan.

In the report, the Indian Army has said that there have been “no infiltration attempts,” and “no attempt to (carry out) cross border tactical action since the Pulwama terror attack.” Interestingly, terror launch pads along the LoC, from which terrorists infiltrate India are empty. “Terror infrastructure in close vicinity of the LoC has been temporarily closed due to overall pressure being maintained on Pakistan,” the Indian Army added in the report.

The thinning out of terror launch pads were reported “from active areas like Poonch and Rajouri as well,” a senior defence ministry official said, asking not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the media. “These are clear on-ground signals from Pakistan for de-escalation.” Recently, when formations along the LoC also repaired bunkers –an annual feature to prepare for the monsoons– the “Pakistan army didn’t interfere,” the official added.

The government had warned the Indian Army and especially the Corps Commanders to take “adequate precautions” to prevent cross-border raids by the Pakistani army after the Pulwama suicide attack. And, while the Indian Air Force was planning air strikes, the Indian Army reinforced its positions along the border and adopted an aggressive posture all along the LoC and the international border. “There were over 100 instances when artillery was used,” the official said and added that “the use of artillery has considerably reduced now.” Pakistan army positions along the border from where Border Action Teams could be launched into India were especially targeted. “In the initial days, several Pakistan Army positions were destroyed, and we have not allowed them to rebuild or these positions,” a second senior official in the ministry of defence said on condition of anonymity.

First Published: May 11, 2019 07:13 IST

Australian-Lebanese Ordered Released in UAE Airliner Bomb Plot

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Australian-Lebanese Ordered Released in UAE Airliner Bomb Plot

Saturday, 11 May, 2019 – 10:45
Police walk outside the international terminal as they patrol Sydney Airport. AFP file photo
Asharq Al-Awsat
The lawyer of an Australian-Lebanese dual citizen on trial for an alleged plot to bring down an Emirati passenger plane said Saturday that her client has been ordered released on bail by a Lebanese military court.

Joceline Adib al-Rai, lawyer of Amer Khayat, said the court’s decision was delivered a day earlier. Prosecutors can appeal.

Khayat has rejected the charges.

Lebanese authorities have held Khayat in detention since 2017. They have accused him of planning to blow up an Etihad airline flight that was supposed to travel from Sydney to the United Arab Emirates.

Khaled and Mahmoud, two of Khayyat’s brothers, are on trial in Australia for plotting to blow up the plane with bombs hidden inside a Barbie doll and meat grinder.

Australian authorities say Amer Khayyat had no knowledge of his brothers’ plot.

Khaled’s sentence hearing has been set for July 26. The charges carry a maximum punishment of life in prison. The jury is still deliberating a verdict for Mahmoud.

Another brother was unaware that he was carrying a bomb, disguised as a meat mincer, in his luggage, as he tried to check in at the airport, Australian police have said.

Tehran to Continue Enriching Uranium, Rouhani Warns Against Internal Divisions

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Tehran to Continue Enriching Uranium, Rouhani Warns Against Internal Divisions

Sunday, 5 May, 2019 – 08:00
A general view of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, some 1,200 km (746 miles) south of Tehran October 26, 2010. REUTERS/IRNA/Mohammad Babaie
London- Asharq Al-Awsat
As the US intensifies its pressure campaign aimed at curbing Tehran’s ballistic missile program and its regional influence, the Iranian clerical-led regime reaffirmed its plans to resume enriching uranium, heavy (deuterium0-based) water and exporting oil.

Speaker Ali Larijani said Tehran would continue to enrich uranium and produce heavy water, regardless of restrictions on shipping abroad.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, for his part, warned that the recent host of US economic sanctions, a part of Washington strategy to counter Iranian malicious behavior, risks stoking internal tensions. Reformists in Rouhani’s administration and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei loyalists have been at odds on Iran’s response policy to pressure.

“Under the [nuclear accord] Iran can produce heavy water and this is not in violation of the agreement. Therefore, we will carry on with enrichment activity,” the semi official Iranian news agency, ISNA, quoted Parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani as saying on May 4.

“We will enrich Uranium whether you move to buy it or not,” Larijani said.

On May 3, the US President Donald Trump’s administration slapped new restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities as it looks to force Tehran to stop producing low-enriched uranium and expanding its only nuclear power plant, intensifying a campaign aimed at halting Tehran’s ballistic missile program and curbing its regional power.

Despite increasing pressure on Iran, the United States on May 3 extended five sanction waivers that will allow Russian, China, and European countries to continue to work with Iran’s civilian nuclear program at Bushehr. But it said it may punish any activity that expands the site.

At the same time, the State Department said it was ending two waivers related to Iranian exports of enriched uranium in what it called “the toughest sanctions ever on the Iranian regime.” All of the waivers were due to expire on May 4.

The 45- to 90-day extensions were shorter than the 180 days granted previously but can be renewed.

It was the third punitive action taken against Iran in as many weeks. Last week, it said it would grant no more sanctions waivers for countries buying Iranian oil, accelerating its plan to push Iran’s oil exports to zero. The Trump administration also took the unprecedented step of designating Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.

“The Trump administration continues to hold the Iranian regime accountable for activities that threaten the region’s stability and harm the Iranian people. This includes denying Iran any pathway to a nuclear weapon,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

The Trump administration pulled out of the nuclear accord a year ago and vowed “maximum pressure” aimed at curbing the regional role of Iran.”

Israel: Hamas Fires 200 Rockets Into Israel: IDF Strikes Targets In Gaza

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Army says 200 rockets fired toward Israel, injuring 2; IDF hits targets in Gaza

IDF says dozens of projectiles intercepted by Iron Dome; Army strikes 30 targets as sirens sound in border communities, Rehovot, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beit Shemesh

Women look at the damage caused by a rocket fired from Gaza that hit a house in southern Israel near the border with Gaza, Saturday, May 4, 2019 (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Women look at the damage caused by a rocket fired from Gaza that hit a house in southern Israel near the border with Gaza, Saturday, May 4, 2019 (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The Israel Defense Forces on Saturday afternoon launched a series of strikes on the Gaza Strip from both land and air, as around 200 rockets were fired toward Israel from the Palestinian enclave.

The army said dozens of the projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

A woman, aged around 80, was in serious condition after being hit by shrapnel from a rocket in Kiryat Gat, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) northeast of the Gaza Strip. She was treated by medics at the scene and taken to hospital, where she was in stable condition.

A man was in a moderate condition after he was injured by shrapnel after a rocket attack on the coastal city of Ashkelon.

Shortly after 3 p.m. the army said fighter jets and tanks had struck 30 “terror targets” in the Strip belonging to the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups. The operations were ongoing.

Medics treat a woman hurt by rocket shrapnel in Kiryat Gat on May 4, 2019 (Channel 12)

The army said it targeted several Hamas compounds in Gaza City used for training and for weapons production. It said one of the sites was used by the organization’s naval force.

It also struck several Islamic Jihad compounds throughout the Strip, and a number of rocket launchers and outposts near the border.

The strikes came after IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi held talks with Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman, Southern Command chief Herzi Halevi and other top brass. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, was set to hold consultations at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv as well.

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The strikes were in response to around 200 rockets launched at Israeli communities from the Strip since the morning, with thousands of Israelis forced into shelters throughout multiple towns and cities near Gaza, including in Rehovot, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Sderot.

And at 3 p.m. sirens sounded for the first time as far as Beit Shemesh, a city 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of Jerusalem.

Objects are scattered in a house that was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in the southern Israeli village of Netiv Ha’asara, on May 4, 2019. (Jack GUEZ / AFP)

The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted dozens of projectiles.

A home in a community in the Eshkol Regional Council suffered a direct hit, without reported casualties, as the residents had run to a nearby shelter moments earlier once sirens were heard. Police were at the scene.

Volume 90%

Also in Eshkol, a rocket fell inside a community but did not cause damage. Another rocket impacted on Route 4, a major highway, near Ashkelon. Sappers handled the rocket remains.

Magen David Adom said none were injured by the rocket barrages. However, a 15-year-old boy was lightly hurt running to a shelter, and two people suffered from shock.

A picture taken from the Gaza Strip on May 4, 2019, shows smoke billowing following an airstrike by Israel in response to rockets fired by Palestinian terrorists. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

In its initial response to the attacks in the morning, the IDF said the air force struck at least two rocket launchers in the Strip, and tanks fired at several posts belonging to the Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said a 22-year-old man was killed and four people were injured by the Israeli strikes. It did not say whether the casualties were people affiliated to any terror group. Channel 12 news reported that the dead man may have been a member of a rocket-launching squad that had fired at Israel, but there was no official confirmation.

No Gaza terror group immediately claimed responsibility for the rocket fire. However, Hamas in a statement said it was “prepared to respond to Israel’s crimes” and vowed to stop it from “spilling the blood of our people.” Gaza’s second-largest terror group, Islamic Jihad, warned that “If Israel continues the aggression it will face surprises.” And a spokesperson for the Popular Resistance Committees said “The resistance groups are breaking the formula that Israel tried to create, whereby it could attack without there being a response.”

An unidentified Hamas source told the Haaretz newspaper that the group had “warned of escalation for the past two weeks due to the delay in carrying out the understandings of the ceasefire. In Israel they asked for calm and got it, and in the Strip we didn’t get any improvement.”

According to the Walla news site, IDF troops in the region were alert to possible attempts to snipe at or launch anti-tank missiles at forces near the border, as well as possible abduction attempts.

An Israeli soldier at the scene where a house was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on May 4, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In light of the ongoing attacks, the IDF’s Home Front Command issued instructions for residents in affected areas to remain near protected spaces. It also limited public gatherings to 300 people in enclosed spaces only and halted agricultural work. Many municipalities opened public shelters. Beaches and national parks in the south were closed, and sporting events canceled.

The instructions applied to communities in the border area near Gaza, the central Negev, Lachish region and southern Shfela plain.

The rocket attacks came a day after two soldiers were shot and injured while on patrol near the border in southern Gaza. One soldier was moderately wounded in the attack and a female soldier was lightly hurt, the IDF said.

In response to the shooting, an IDF aircraft attacked a nearby Hamas post, the army said. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said two people were killed in the strike and two others were wounded.

Hamas confirmed the two men killed in the airstrike were members of its military wing and pledged to respond to what it called “Israeli aggression.”

The Hebrew-language Twitter account of the Hamas-affiliated Shehab news agency issued a threat to Israel Friday night: “We will respond to the crimes of the occupation and the killing of our people.”

The Islamic Jihad also said it held Israel responsible for the deaths.

The incidents, which marked a serious escalation, came during weekly border protests in which several thousand Gazans gathered at five sites. Some of the demonstrators rioted, throwing rocks and makeshift explosive devices at soldiers, who responded with tear gas and occasional live fire.

Palestinianss clash with Israeli troops during protests at the Israel-Gaza border, on May 3, 2019 (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

A third Palestinian was killed during the border riots, the Gaza health ministry said, identifying him as Ra’ed Khalil Abu Tayyer, 19, adding that 40 protesters had been injured. The IDF said troops had identified several attempts to breach the fence. Overnight Friday, a fourth Palestinian died from injuries sustained during the riots, according to Hebrew media reports.

On Thursday, a Hamas delegation led by the group’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar traveled to Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials on a truce with Israel, Hamas officials said.

That agreement has appeared to be under stress in recent days, with Palestinians launching arson balloons and rockets into Israel and Israeli warplanes striking Hamas targets.

A picture taken from Moshav Netiv Ha’asara in southern Israel shows rockets fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israeli territory on May 4, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Hamas has said the incendiary balloons were a message to Israel not to hold up the transfer of millions of dollars in Qatari aid funds to the cash-strapped Hamas government in Gaza.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a crippling blockade on Gaza since Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, seized control of the territory in 2007. Jerusalem says it is necessary to prevent terror groups from rearming and becoming an even greater menace.

The sides are bitter enemies and have fought three wars and engaged in numerous smaller flare-ups of violence.

Tensions have been rising in recent days amid allegations from Hamas that Israel has been delaying implementation of last month’s ceasefire understandings.

Following heavy fighting in early April, Israel agreed to ease the blockade in exchange for a halt to rocket fire. This included expanding a fishing zone off Gaza’s coast, increasing imports into Gaza and allowing the Gulf state of Qatar to deliver aid to cash-strapped Gaza.

Hamas has hoped that Egyptian mediators could further ease the blockade, which has ravaged Gaza’s economy. For over a year, the Islamic group has orchestrated mass demonstrations each week along the Israeli frontier to draw attention to Gaza’s plight.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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Several Hospitalized After Blast At Waukegan Illinois Silicon Plant

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK POST)

 

Several hospitalized after blast at Illinois silicon plant

A massive explosion in a silicon plant in northern Illinois sent at least four people to the hospital late Friday night.

The 9:30 p.m. blast at AB Specialty Silicones, located at an industrial park in Waukegan, also left an unknown number of employees unaccounted for, CNN reported.

Local police said an “active search and rescue” operation was underway, according to Chicago TV station WGN. The cause of the blast was under investigation.

Loud booms were heard and the ground shook in towns in the region, about 50 miles north of Chicago along Lake Michigan.

FILED UNDER   

Sri Lanka Attacks: Relatives Of Key Suspect Zahran Hashim Killed

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Sri Lanka attacks: Relatives of key suspect Zahran Hashim killed

Sri Lankan army personnel stand guard at a checkpoint as they search people and their bags at a check point in Kattankudy near Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, 28 AprilImage copyright REUTERS
Image caption Searches have been carried out in Kattankudy

The father and two brothers of the alleged organiser of the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, Zahran Hashim, were killed in a security forces operation on Friday, police say.

Hashim, who blew himself up at a hotel in Colombo, founded an Islamist group, the NTJ, which has now been banned.

Police have raided the group’s HQ in the eastern town of Kattankudy.

The Sri Lankan president has announced a ban on face coverings, aimed at Muslim women following the attacks.

The attacks targeted churches and hotels, killing at least 250 people.

Sunday church services were cancelled across the country as a precaution but worshippers in the capital gathered to pray outside St Anthony’s, which was badly damaged in the attacks.

How did Hashim’s relatives die?

Security forces raided a house in Sainthamaruthu, near Hashim’s hometown Kattankudy, on Friday.

Gunmen opened fire as troops moved in, police say, and three men set off explosives, killing themselves, six children and three women. Three other people died in gunfire.

The headquarters of the NTJ under police guardImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionPolice sealed off the NTJ’s headquarters on Sunday

A close family relative confirmed for BBC News that Hashim’s father and two brothers died in the raid.

Police sources who spoke to Reuters news agency named the three men as Mohamed Hashim, and his sons Zainee Hashim and Rilwan Hashim.

All three had been seen in a video circulating on social media calling for all-out war against all non-believers, Reuters adds.

In Kattankudy itself, police searched the headquarters of the NTJ (National Thawheed Jamath), which Zahran Hashim had led.

Presentational grey line

‘Safe house’ discovered by chance

By Anbarasan Ethirajan, BBC News, Sainthamaruthu

GV of house that was raided
Image caption The safe house was discovered after local people alerted police

When I entered the house where the Islamists and their families were killed on Friday evening, the smell of death was unbearable.

A police officer at the site also said Zahran Hashim’s mother was also believed to be among the victims.

Security forces have been conducting raids across the country but this safe house was discovered by chance, when the suspicious house owner and local people alerted the police.

Every day, police are making arrests, seizing weapons, explosives and jihadist material suggesting the radicalisation process, however small it may be, has been happening over a period of time. If the security agencies had missed this, then it is a colossal failure.

The ongoing raids and discovery of weapons and material are gradually building up tensions among the communities. A hotel owner said she was worried because she was a Catholic. Muslims say they are nervous to visit Sinhala-majority areas. Some foreign governments have warned that there is a possibility of further attacks and if those happen, fragile ethnic relations could be further strained.

Presentational grey line

Announcing the ban on face coverings, which will begin on Monday, President Maithripala Sirisena said he was taking the emergency measure on national security grounds.

The announcement made no specific mention of the niqab and burka – worn by Muslim women – but instead said people’s faces should be fully visible so they could be identified.

What happened on Easter Sunday?

Sri Lanka has been on high alert since a co-ordinated wave of bombings last Sunday, which also wounded more than 500 people.

The bombings targeted churches that were packed full for the Easter holiday, as well as hotels popular with tourists.

As well as St Anthony’s Shrine, bombers struck churches in Negombo and the eastern city of Batticaloa, and hotels in the capital, Colombo.

Most of those killed were Sri Lankan, but dozens of foreign citizens were also among the dead.

Media caption‘This is Sri Lanka’: Fighting back with peace

While the authorities have blamed the NTJ for the attacks, they say they must have had help from a larger network.

The Islamic State group, which carried out mass attacks on civilians in Paris and other locations in recent years, has said it was involved, but has not given details.

How are the victims being remembered?

Christians in Sri Lanka prayed at home while the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, held a televised Mass, attended by the president and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

He called the attacks an “insult to humanity” in the service, broadcast from a chapel in his residence.

Media caption Sri Lankans pray and light candles, one week after a string of bombings by Islamist militants

“Today during this Mass we are paying attention to last Sunday’s tragedy and we try to understand it,” he said.

“We pray that in this country there will be peace and co-existence and understanding each other without division.”

Scores of people gathered for the public service outside St Anthony’s, where Buddhist monks joined Catholic priests in a show of solidarity with the Christian community.

Crowds of people watched the heavily-guarded church from behind a barricade, with some singing hymns and passing rosary beads through their hands.

Many lit candles and placed them in a makeshift memorial for the victims.

The church’s bells tolled at 08:45 (03:15 GMT) – the exact moment a bomber detonated his device one week ago.

The hands of its damaged clock tower are still stuck at that time.

Citing ‘high, concrete’ terror threat, Israel tells citizens to leave Sri Lanka

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Citing ‘high, concrete’ terror threat, Israel tells citizens to leave Sri Lanka

Four days after Easter suicide bombings killed at least 359 people and wounded 500 more, Counter-Terrorism Bureau tells Israelis to come home, cancel planned trips

Security personnel stand guard in front of St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo on April 23, 2019, two days after a series of bomb blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. (Jewel SAMAD / AFP)

Security personnel stand guard in front of St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo on April 23, 2019, two days after a series of bomb blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. (Jewel SAMAD / AFP)

The Israel National Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau on Thursday issued a warning for travel to Sri Lanka, saying there was a “high and concrete” chance of a terror attack, four days after the Easter Sunday suicide bombing attacks that killed more than 350 people in and around the capital of Colombo.

The agency said Israeli travelers should leave the island as soon as possible, and those planning to visit were advised to cancel their trips.

The announcement means the country now bears the security agency’s second-highest warning. The decision to issue the warning was made after consultations with security officials and the Foreign Ministry.

On Thursday, Sri Lankan authorities banned drones and unmanned aircraft and continued to set off controlled detonations of suspicious items. Sri Lanka’s civil aviation authority said that it was taking the aircraft measure “in view of the existing security situation in the country.”

A priest conducts a mass burial for Easter Sunday bomb blast victims in Negombo, Sri Lanka on April 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Hobby drones have been used by attackers in the past to carry explosives. Iraqi forces found them difficult to shoot down while driving out the Islamic State group, whose members loaded drones with grenades or simple explosives to target government forces. And Yemen’s Houthi rebels has used drones, most recently to target a military parade in January, killing troops.

Sri Lankan police continued their search for explosives, detonating a suspicious item in a garbage dump in Pugoda, about 35 kilometers (22 miles) east of Colombo.

The attacks Easter Sunday mainly at churches and hotels killed at least 359 people and wounded 500 more, the government said Wednesday. Most were Sri Lankan but the Foreign Ministry has confirmed 36 foreigners died. The remains of 13 have been repatriated. Fourteen foreigners are unaccounted for, and 12 were still being treated for injuries in Colombo hospitals.

Sri Lankan security personnel walk next to dead bodies on the floor amid blast debris at St. Anthony’s Shrine following an explosion in the church in Colombo on April 21, 2019. (ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP)

A top Sri Lankan official has said that many of the suicide bombers were highly educated and came from well-off families.

Junior defense minister Ruwan Wijewardene said at least one had a law degree and others may have studied in the UK and Australia.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said one of the bombers had been in the country on a student visa with a spouse and child before leaving in 2013.

A British security official also confirmed one bomber is believed to have studied in the UK between 2006 and 2007. The security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the investigation, said British intelligence had not been watching Abdul Lathief Jameel Mohamed during his stay in the country. His name was first reported by Sky News.

A photo published on the Islamic State terror groups propaganda outlet, the Amaq agency, on April 23, 2019, showing what the group says is eight bombers who carried out the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka. (Amaq)

Sri Lankan government leaders have acknowledged that some intelligence units were aware of possible terror attacks against churches or other targets weeks before the bombings. The president asked for the resignations of the defense secretary and national police chief without saying who would replace them.

Sri Lankan authorities have blamed a local extremist group, National Towheed Jamaat, whose leader, alternately named Mohammed Zahran or Zahran Hashmi, became known to Muslim leaders three years ago for his incendiary online speeches. On Wednesday, junior defense minister Ruwan Wijewardene said the attackers had broken away from National Towheed Jamaat and another group, which he identified only as “JMI.”

Sri Lankan security personnel inspect the debris of a car after it explodes when police tried to defuse a bomb near St. Anthony’s Shrine as priests look on in Colombo on April 22, 2019, a day after the series of bomb blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. (Jewel SAMAD / AFP)

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Authorities remain unsure of the group’s involvement, though authorities are investigating whether foreign militants advised, funded or guided the local bombers.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara has said 58 suspects have been detained since the bombings.

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Post-Balakot, Pakistan Scrambled Jets From 8 Bases. Ws 10 Minutes Late: IAF Report

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Post-Balakot, Pakistan scrambled jets from 8 bases. Was 10 minutes late: IAF report

The assessment has revealed several positives, but because “no battle plan ever survives the first contact with the enemy”, there were also deviations from the plan, and some outright negatives too.

INDIA Updated: Apr 25, 2019 09:33 IST

Sudhi Ranjan Sen
Sudhi Ranjan Sen
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Balakot airstrikes,Balakot,IAF
The report, a detailed assessment of the positives and negatives of the operation, to be used as a reference for future operations, was discussed at a high-level meeting of IAF recently(PTI/ Representative Image)

 “The strategic-surprise” of the Balakot airstrikes by the Indian Air Force in the Khyber Phaktunwa region of Pakistan on February 26 was “complete and total” despite Pakistan being on high alert, according to a report on “the lessons learnt” from the operation, which also mentions that five of the six designated targets were hit, the first official acknowledgement of the number of targets.

The report, a detailed assessment of the positives and negatives of the operation, to be used as a reference for future operations, was discussed at a high-level meeting of IAF recently.

On February 26, in response to a suicide bombing attack by a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, that killed 40 troopers, and to pre-empt more such attacks, IAF struck a training camp of the Pakistan-based JeM in Balakot. There’s been a lot of discussion and debate on the attack, including on the damage inflicted, but the report marks the first time IAF discussed the operation’s effectiveness.

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The assessment has revealed several positives, but because “no battle plan ever survives the first contact with the enemy”, there were also deviations from the plan, and some outright negatives too.

The mission “was accomplished” because of “redundancies” built into the plan, the report, a copy of which has been reviewed by HT, says.

The Positives

The “strategic surprise” was so complete that only after IAF’s Mirage-2000s delivered the weapons package and turned back did Pakistan scramble jets from “as many as eight fighter bases”. These included the Pakistan Air Force base Mushaf in Sargoda, Rafiqui in Shorkot, Minhas in Kamra Attock, and Murid in Chakwal. “But the distance between PAF and IAF fighters was at least 10 minutes,” a senior officer in the security establishment said on condition of anonymity.

“Pakistan was expecting a response, but from the PAF response it appears it did not expect us to take the aerial route,” the officer added.

The “accuracy” of intelligence and the subsequent target selection is one of the positives the report talks about. “With this quality of intelligence, we can hit any target inside Pakistan within three hours,” a second senior security establishment official said, asking not to be named.

Among the other positives, the report lists the proficiency and skills of pilots who flew the mission, and describes them as “top class”. Keeping in the tradition of IAF, the Commanding Officers (CO) of the respective squadrons flew the mission. All pilots who flew the mission are likely to be awarded for their skill and ability.

Importantly, although nearly 6,000 men and officers of IAF were involved in the execution – aircraft flew from different airbases spread across India – there were “no leakages”.

Deception at the strategic and tactical level deceived Pakistan, the report says. While Chief of Air Staff BS Dhanoa and the top echelon of IAF went about normal duties — including attending conferences, banquets, and addressing Defence Attaché’s, so-called Combat Air Patrols along the border areas — before the strike lulled Pakistan to some extent.

Importantly, during the attack, a strike-element of Russian made Su-30s flying towards Bahawalpur, Pakistan, where the JeM is based, forced the neighbouring country to divert its energies and air defence capabilities in a separate sector.

Finally, the accuracy of the weapons have also come in for praise in the report. IAF used Spice 2000 precision guided munitions (PGM) to hit the target, among others. “Five of the six designated targets” inside the Jaish-e- Mohammed (JeM) training camp in Balakot were hit directly, the assessment report has concluded.

The Negatives

Cloud cover and weather conditions did create problems for the fighter fleet, the report says. Importantly, the entire weapons package — apart from the Spice 2000 — carried by the IAF fleet wasn’t delivered, leading to questions about to weapon to target matching. Changes in the software made to integrate new weapon systems with vintage Mirage aircraft didn’t completely work.

IAF use indigenous skills to integrate the new weapons systems. “The Balakot experience underlines integration of new weapons with platforms should be done by the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) despite the cost involved,” said a senior official aware of the assessment, who did not want to be named.

The other “negative” listed in the report is in the politico-strategic domain. IAF, when planning the attack, gave priority to eliminating the maximum number of terrorists at the JeM facility. It chose Spice 2000 – a penetration smart bomb – over a fragmentation weapon. The former penetrates structures killing everyone inside whereas the latter flattens and demolishes structures.

“When questions were raised about the strike, especially internationally, IAF didn’t have much by way of pictures to show as evidence making it easy for Pakistan to deny the attack itself,” a third senior officer in the security establishment said, asking not to be identified.

Recommendations

Looking ahead and taking the lessons from the Balakot strike, IAF wants more “technological asymmetry” to be able to “penetrate the enemy airspace at will”, according to the report. It will be looking at better air defence capabilities. The induction of new platforms such as the Russian made S-400 surface to air anti-aircraft missile systems will fill part of the gap.

According to a former senior air force official, India should concentrate on absorbing more defence technology. “Technological asymmetry will always give you an edge over the enemy. However, if the OEM [original equipment manufacturer, or the supplier] is the same on either, it could create difficulties,” said former Air Vice Marshal Sunil Jayant Nanodkar.

“We achieved complete surprise and the mission was successful. It highlights the need to give forces the freedom to execute a political decision. The execution of a political decision should be at choosing of the forces,” he added.

First Published: Apr 25, 2019 07:29 IST