Afghanistan – Foreign tourists being escorted by an army convoy in western Afghanistan have been attacked by fighters, leaving at least six injured Afghan officials say. At least 11 tourists from the US, the UK and Germany were attacked in the Chesht-e-Sharif district of Herat province on the 4 Aug 16 while on their way to Herat from Bamiyan and Ghor provinces. No group had yet claimed responsibility for the attack. Jalani Farhad, spokesman for the Herat governor, blamed the attack on the Taliban. "A group of Taliban fighters conducted the attack on the tourists, injuring at least six," he said. "However, no one is dead." A report from the capital Kabul, said the tourists' vehicle had been hit by an RPG. The report described the convoy's route as a "dangerous one", adding that "even Afghans would avoid travelling on that road. "This journey is three days long by road, and most of it is controlled by warlords, thieves and, of course, the Taliban," a source said. "All these things are raising lots of questions; why did these foreigners, in the first place, decide to travel on that road," he said, adding that "no embassy, in no country, would recommend to their citizens to take that road. Everyone knows about the risk." Western embassies typically warn their citizens against all travel in Afghanistan, citing threats of attacks and kidnapping. Both Bamiyan and Herat host several archaeological sites in the country. The world's largest Buddha statue in Bamiyan was destroyed by the Taliban in early 2001.
Afghanistan – Five gunmen wearing Afghan military uniforms have abducted an American and an Australian in the Afghan capital, Kabul, a security official said on the 8 Aug 16. The two foreigners were taken from their SUV while driving on night of the 7 Aug 16 on a main road near the American University of Afghanistan, according to Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry. They are believed to be employees of the university and were traveling between the university and their residence, he said. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the abduction. Sediqqi also added that initial reports show that up to five armed men stopped the foreigners’ vehicle and carried out the kidnapping. The two abducted are both men, he said. He did not reveal any more details except to say that an investigation is underway. The US Embassy in Kabul issued a brief statement confirming the kidnapping of an American citizen but gave no further details “due to privacy concerns.” “US Embassy security officials are working closely with Afghan law enforcement and security colleagues and AUAF to assist in the investigation into the kidnapping,” it said, referring to the American University of Afghanistan. Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade also issued a statement confirming “the apparent kidnapping of an Australian in Kabul.” No further details were released, also for privacy concerns. “We continue to advise Australians not to travel to Afghanistan because of the extremely dangerous security situation, including the serious threat of kidnapping,” it said. Senior staff at the university in Kabul could not immediately be reached for comment. Kidnappings are not uncommon in Afghanistan. Three other foreigners who were kidnapped in Kabul over the past year have all been released, including an Indian woman, Judith D’Souza who was freed last month after being held for more than a month. An Australian woman, Kerry Jane Wilson, was abducted in the eastern city of Jalalabad in Apr 16. Her whereabouts are unknown. Sediqqi said that kidnappers in all the Kabul cases, including Monday’s, had been wearing military uniforms, establishing a pattern and hinting at some form of organized gang activity. Most of the thousands of foreigners living and working in Kabul are largely confined to their embassies or, in the case of those working for the United Nations or other non-government organizations, to their residential compounds, with limited movement permitted. The abductions heighten the risk for the few foreigners, including journalists, who move with relative freedom across the Afghan capital in order to do their work. Residents of the capital complain that crime has risen in recent months, especially robbery and car theft. The apparent rise coincides with an economic crisis as the government has not been able to create jobs or stimulate growth. 361 COMMENT: No matter which way you look at it, Afghanistan is a war zone, no matter how travel agencies and holiday agencies try to sell it, the place is a war zone. Tourist should stay away. In Iraq the Christian Peacemaker hostage crisis involved four human rights workers of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) who were held hostage in Iraq from November 26, 2005 by the Swords of Righteousness Brigade. One hostage, Tom Fox, was killed, and the remaining three freed in a military operation on March 23, 2006. They too thought it was safe to travel in a hostile environment, one paid the ultimate price. These people are also very selfish individuals as they have no respect for those who have to attempt to rescue them and put their own lives on the line. Don’t be there in the first place! COMMENT ENDS
Afghanistan/Taliban – Fighting raged on the 11 Aug 16 in Helmand after Afghanistan rushed military reinforcements to beat back Taliban insurgents advancing on the besieged capital of the southern poppy-growing province, as officials downplayed fears the city could fall. Afghan forces fought back insurgents after they stormed Nawa district, just south of Lashkar Gah city, late on the 10 Aug 16 raising alarm that the provincial capital was at risk. But United States and Afghan officials insist that they will not allow another urban centre to be captured, after the Taliban briefly overran northern Kunduz city last Sep 15 in their biggest victory in 15 years of war. "The security situation in Lashkar Gah is under our control," the defence ministry spokesman, Dawlat Waziri, said after Special Forces were deployed. "We have retaken control of Nawa. Fighting is still going on in the outskirts but we are making progress with clearance operations," he said adding that dozens of Taliban were killed in the fight. Fierce battles in recent days across Helmand, seen as the focal point of the insurgency, has sent thousands of people fleeing to Lashkar Gah, sparking a humanitarian crisis as officials report food and water shortages. The United States has stepped up air strikes supporting Afghan forces on the ground, highlighting the intensity of the battle in Helmand. The Taliban effectively control or contest 10 of the 14 districts in Helmand, the deadliest province for British and US forces in Afghanistan over the past decade. The turmoil convulsing the long-contested province, blighted by a huge opium harvest that helps fund the insurgency, underscores a rapidly unravelling security situation in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan – The leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in Afghanistan and Pakistan was killed in a US drone strike on July 26, US and Afghan officials have confirmed and was reported on the 13 Aug 16. Hafiz Saeed Khan, ISIL's Khorasan Province leader, was killed in Kot district of Afghanistan's Nangharhar province, according to Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal, the top Afghan diplomat in Pakistan. He said on the 12 Aug 16 that Hafiz Saeed Khan's senior commanders and fighters were also killed in the drone strike. A US defence official confirmed that the 26 Jul 16 drone strike killed Hafiz Saeed Khan. The so-called Khorasan Province was created by ISIL in 2015 encompassing areas in Pakistan, Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia. "The commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan General John W Nicholson estimates that about 25 percent of the ISIL fighters in Afghanistan have been killed in the drone strikes. "He said the killing of Hafiz Saeed Khan will disrupt ISIL recruitment as well as operations." The air strike occurred during a month-long joint US-Afghan military operation in July against ISIL in Nangarhar. "Hafiz Saeed Khan was known to directly participate in attacks against US and coalition forces, and the actions of his network terrorised Afghans, especially in Nangarhar," said Gordon Trowbridge, Pentagon spokesperson. Hafiz Saeed Khan, a former member of the Pakistani branch of the Taliban [known as Tehreek-e-Taliban] who swore allegiance to ISIL, had been reported killed last year, but his death was never confirmed.
Afghanistan – Taliban militants fighting Afghan security forces in southern Helmand province are being strengthened by an elite new commando force called 'Sara Khitta' - the Red Brigade in the Pashto language it was reported on the 14 Aug 16. Afghan officials say Taliban advances have been boosted by the several hundred fighters of the unit, including a large number of foreign nationals fighting with them. "Helmand has now become a target of international terrorists' agenda," Helmand governor Hayatullah Hayat told VOA. "Foreigners who are fighting for the Taliban include Pakistanis, Chechens, Azerbaijanis, and Turkmens. We have strong evidence to prove our claim." The existence of the unit was first reported by VOA and wire agencies early last week. Helmand, which borders Pakistan, has been one of the most restive provinces during the past few years. The largest Afghan province has been the scene of fierce battles between the Taliban militants and Afghan troops in recent weeks. Residents say the Taliban has made rapid advances and lately the fighting has been taking place in districts around the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, effectively besieging the city. The fight is increasingly drawing well-equipped and trained foreign mercenaries, Afghan officials say. "Foreigners have been present in this strategic province for many years; they receive support from neighbouring countries," Mohammad Karim Atal, head of the Helmand provincial council, told VOA. "Pakistani Punjabi fighters, along with other foreigners, are fighting in the current battles in Helmand." The provincial council head added that some battles are led by the outside commanders. "In some places, foreigners lead the fight," Atal said. "They have all the resources; they plan and lead the fight. They possess modern weapons and sophisticated maps. They use advanced technology and techniques." According to the provincial council head, foreign fighters cross into Helmand from neighbouring Pakistan through remote districts controlled by the Taliban. "Most of the militants come through southern districts of Helmand…They transport their wounded fighters to Pakistan through the same route." Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nafees Zakrya, who spoke to VOA's Deewa service, accused the Afghan media of spreading baseless reports and being unreliable. He did not comment on the recent Afghan claims. But experts in both Afghanistan and Pakistan say foreign fighters have participated in militant groups in various parts of Afghanistan. "Foreign fighters are undoubtedly present in the Taliban ranks," said Kabul-based Taliban analyst, Wahid Muzhda. "Militants from Pakistan, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and some Tajik nationals have been with the Taliban in Afghanistan." According to Muzhda, Pakistan-based militants provide substantial manpower to their Afghan counterparts. He said many militants from Central Asian nations pledged allegiance to and joined the Islamic State group's Khorasan chapter after the Taliban announced that it did not have an "international agenda." But, he added, that a significant number of foreign militants still fight alongside the Taliban. Khadim Hussain is a Peshawar-based security analyst and author of the book "The Militant Discourse" – Religious Militancy in Pakistan. He told VOA that several militant groups previously affiliated with al-Qaida in Pakistan have joined forces to carry out militant activities inside Afghanistan. He said the highly organized umbrella network was brought together last year after the death of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar was confirmed, and includes internationally designated terrorist organizations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Haqqani network. In addition to the current battle in Helmand, Hussain said, the network reportedly played a major role in the fall of north-eastern Kunduz province to the Taliban last year and participated in several attacks in eastern Nangarhar and in the capital, Kabul. Hussain said a number of Pakistan-based militant groups have abandoned their activities in Pakistan to focus on Afghanistan. "The Moawia Taliban splinter group in Punjab publicly denounced fighting the Pakistani state but said it was legal to fight against Afghanistan," said Hussain. The presence of foreign fighters in Afghanistan reaches its peak during summer months, partly because of the "seasonal Taliban" – madrassa or religious seminary students from Pakistan who join Afghan militants during their summer vacations, according to Muzhda. "That has been the trend for many years. The madrassas that support the Taliban ideology send their students to Afghanistan to participate in 'practical jihad' as an encouragement and incentive to the students," said Hussain, adding that the students are sent to "put the theory into practice," after being taught the importance of jihad. He added that it is very likely that students from madrassas in Karachi, Punjab and Pakhtunkhwa province have participated in the Helmand battle. Afghanistan's north-eastern province of Kunduz briefly fell to the Taliban last year. Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry said around 1,300 foreign militants, most of them members of the Pakistani Taliban, had participated in the assault on Kunduz.
Afghanistan – At least two people have been injured in a bomb explosion near the US embassy in the Afghan capital of Kabul, police say. The blast occurred at a main square near the embassy and the country's Supreme Court on the 15 Aug 16. Police said the blast was caused by a magnetic bomb attached to a military vehicle. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, although Afghan officials regularly blame Taliban for such incidents. 361 COMMENT: It is not usual for terrorist to use a magnetic explosive device/limpet mine so there maybe a new bomb maker in Kabul. The last time magnetic devices were used were in the early years of the 2003 Iraq invasion where civilian vehicles, especially those carrying westerners were targeted. COMMENT ENDS
Australia/Hamas – Australia said on the 5 Aug 16 it was suspending funding for relief group World Vision’s operations in the Palestinian Territories after allegations its Gaza representative funnelled millions of dollars to Islamist militant group, Hamas. Mohammad El Halabi, World Vision’s manager of operations in Gaza, was arrested by Israel on the 15 Jun 16 while crossing the border into the enclave, which is under the de facto rule of Hamas, a group on the Israeli and US terrorism blacklists. A senior Israeli security official on the 4 Aug 16 said Halabi, who has run the group’s Gaza operations since 2010, had been under extended surveillance and had confessed to siphoning off some $7.2 million a year to Hamas.
World Vision said it was shocked by the claims and a Hamas spokesman said the group had no connection with Halabi. Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) called the allegations “deeply troubling” and said in a statement that it was “urgently seeking more information from World Vision and the Israeli authorities.” “We are suspending the provision of further funding to World Vision for programs in the Palestinian Territories until the investigation is complete,” it said. Australia has paid World Vision approximately A$5.7 million ($4.35 million) over the past three financial years for the provision of aid in the Palestinian Territories, a DFAT spokesman said.
Australia/Indonesia – Counter-terrorism authorities say they’re “increasingly concerned” about money flowing into the South-East Asian region, warning it costs very little to finance a lone wolf terrorist attack it was reported on the 11 Aug 16. They also fear charities are being used as fronts to collect and distribute terror funding — urging Australians to verify the credentials of not-for-profit organisations before making a donation. A world-first report into terror financing in South-East Asia and Australia, jointly released by Australian and Indonesian authorities said self-funded terrorists and corrupted charities posed the highest risks to the region. “While the flow of funds out of the region poses a high terrorism financing risk, regional authorities are increasingly concerned by funds flowing into the region to support local terrorism networks,” it said. “Given only small sums are required to stage a deadly attack, even modest amounts of funding from foreign terrorist groups pose a significant risk to the region’s security.” The report said self-funding from legitimate sources was the most common method of financing terrorism in the region, with the money mostly used for foreign fighters’ travel or the purchase of weapons and explosives. “It generally occurs in small volumes, and transactions are most often conducted in cash or through legitimate financial channels,” it said. “In observed cases, funds are mainly derived from income, sale of personal items, credit cards, loans, welfare payments and pension funds or superannuation.” Justice Minister Michael Keenan said the financial activities of lone wolf operators often resembled normal living costs, making it harder for authorities to identify and stop them. “Their financial activity may resemble legitimate financial transactions or worse, remain virtually indistinct when self-funded,” he said. “This was the case of the attack in Nice, in which the perpetrator hired a truck to kill dozens of innocent civilians.” His comments were echoed by Indonesia’s Vice Foreign Minister Mohammad Fachir, who said authorities must put a stop to this terror “lifeline.” The Regional Risk Assessment report, released by the Counter-Terrorism Financing Summit in Bali also raised concerns about the oversight of not-for-profit organisations. (http://www.austrac.gov.au/about-us/international-engagement/counter-terrorism-financing-summit-2016) It said while there were few reports of misuse of charities for financing terror they had the ability to quickly collect and move large sums, with cases in Australia, Thailand and the Philippines already identified. “In Australia, two cases from the mid-2000s involved community-based NPOs that raise close to $1 million each which was funnelled to foreign-based terrorist groups for organisational funding,” it said. “Australia has also experienced suspicious ‘pop-up’ NPOs that appear to dissolve after raising funds for ‘humanitarian efforts’ in Syria and Iraq’.” Mr Keenan urged Australians to check the credentials of not-for-profit organisations before donating. More than 530 suspicious transaction reports were made in Australia in the past year, the report said. (http://www.austrac.gov.au/sites/default/files/regional-risk-assessment-SMALL_0.pdf)
India/ National Democratic Front of Bodoland – An armed separatist group is being blamed for killing at least 13 people and injuring more than a dozen during an attack on a busy weekly market in Kokrajhar town in India's north-eastern Assam state, officials said. One assailant was killed during the attack on the 5 Aug 16 and security forces were in pursuit of three or four suspects believed to be hiding in a nearby forest, Assam police chief Mukesh Sahay told reporters. Though no group had yet claimed responsibility, Sahay blamed the attack on the outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland, an armed group that has fought for decades for a separate homeland for the indigenous Bodo tribespeople in Assam. "This attack is intended to destabilise peace in Assam," Himanta Biswa Sarma, the state's finance and health minister said. A second police official said that six attackers arrived in a motorized rickshaw and opened fire with automatic weapons and threw grenades into the crowded market in Balajan, just outside Kokrajhar town. Local journalist Mrinal Talukdar said: "The wounded and the dead were innocent villagers. Among the injured were two children as well." Three days ago, police arrested members of the Bodoland front with a cache of weapons in the same area as Friday's attack. The Bodos are an indigenous tribe in Assam, making up 10 percent of the state's 33 million people. Sanjoy Hazarika, director of the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research in New Delhi, said that the attack was a reminder that armed groups are still operating in the region. “This is as good a time as any to remind the public that groups like this are still around", Hazarika said, adding that such groups "cannot be controlled just by the force of arms". Hazarika said that "dialogue and discussion" would be required to bring such groups under control, "just as other groups have done". Dozens of rebel groups have been fighting the Indian government and sometimes each other for years in seven states in northeast India. They are demanding greater regional autonomy or independent homelands for the indigenous groups they represent. The separatists target communities they consider outsiders, including Adivasis, whose ancestors migrated to Assam more than 100 years ago to work on tea plantations - as well as Muslims, accusing them and the federal government of exploiting the region's wealth while neglecting the locals. More than 60 Muslim settlers and Adivasi tribespeople in Assam were killed in separate attacks in 2014. In 2012 there were clashes between Bodos and mostly Bengali Muslim settlers that resulted in hundreds of deaths. Hundreds of thousands were displaced. Deadly riots erupted again two years later.
Indonesia/Da’esh – Indonesian police have arrested six suspected militants over a plot to fire a rocket at an upmarket Singapore waterfront district from a nearby island it was reported on the 5 Aug 16. Singapore said it was stepping up security in response to the plan that was being hatched on Indonesia's Batam island, which is only about 10 miles to the south of the city-state. The men, aged between 19 and 46, were detained by elite anti-terror police on Batam. The alleged leader of the Indonesian group is accused of planning the attack with a leading Indonesian militant who is now believed to be fighting with ISIS in Syria. It was the latest terror plot in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, where there has been a surge in attacks and attempted attacks this year due to the growing influence of ISIS. The pair 'planned a terror attack in Singapore. They wanted to attack Singapore with a rocket from Batam,' national police spokesman Agus Rianto told reporters. Police said the target was Marina Bay, a district that is home to Marina Bay Sands, a luxury complex that includes shopping malls, hotels and a casino. Rianto added police had 'preliminary data' and were still investigating the plot, and named the alleged ringleader as 31-year-old Gigih Rahmat Dewa. Analysts said it was unclear whether the militants had the ability to carry out such a plan, which would involve firing a rocket over a distance of about 12 miles. Singapore said it was aware of the plan and security had been stepped up inland and at the city-state's borders. 'This does not come as a surprise,' said Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam. 'I have spoken several times, about plans being made in places just outside Singapore, to target Singapore –- we were serious about the threats.' Sidney Jones, director of Jakarta think-tank the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict said it was necessary to wait for further information about the plot before drawing firm conclusions. But she added: 'I have no idea whether there was any capacity to do this. I think it highly unlikely that the plan had got very advanced.' There have been signs of support for ISIS in Singapore. Singapore in recent weeks jailed four Bangladeshi workers accused of planning to join ISIS for raising money to fund attacks in their homeland, and also detained an Australia-based Singaporean who allegedly glorified the jihadists and backed the establishment of a caliphate in the city-state. Police suspect Dewa, 31, received and distributed funds sent by Naim. Naim has been linked to several recent terror plots in Indonesia, including a suicide bomb attack on a police station in the city of Solo last month that left one police officer injured. Dewa is also accused of previously harbouring two members of China's ethnic Uighur minority, some of whom have travelled to Indonesia to join militant groups, and of helping extremists on their journeys to Syria. Indonesia has long struggled with Islamic militancy and has suffered a string of attacks in the past 15 years, including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people. A crackdown had weakened the most dangerous networks but ISIS has proved a potent new rallying cry for the country's radicals, and hundreds of Indonesians have headed to the Middle East to join the jihadists. In January ISIS-linked militants launched a deadly gun and bomb attack in Jakarta which left four attackers and four civilians dead.
Pakistan – A major terror attack in Pakistan was on the 31 Jul 16 foiled, with security forces killing seven militants who were plotting to target key government installations in Punjab province, the latest in a series of similar assaults. According to the Counter—Terrorism Department (CTD) of Punjab Police, it had received information that around 10 to 12 militants were planning to attack sensitive installations and buildings of law enforcement agencies here. “A CTD team along with police commandos raided a house in Chak Char Rasala Sheikhupura district some 50 km from Lahore in early hours. The team asked them to surrender,” the CTD said. “But instead they opened fire on the raiding team which returned the fire, killing seven militants on the spot. The remaining three managed to flee,” it said. Explosives, hand grenades, Kalashnikovs a large quantity of ammunition, three motorcycles and maps of sensitive buildings have been recovered from their hideout. The CTD has shifted the bodies to a mortuary for autopsy and the outfit to which the militants belonged is yet to be ascertained. On July 23, five Taliban militants who were plotting to attack government installations and personnel of law enforcement agencies were killed in an encounter by security forces in Punjab province. At least six militants were killed on the 13 Jul 16 in a shootout with police in Punjab’s Okara city. In April, the Pakistan Army launched a targeted operation against militants in the province, days after a deadly attack in Lahore in which at least 70 people were killed and over 200 injured when a suicide bomb ripped through a crowded park in Lahore where Christians were celebrating Easter.
Pakistan/Afghanistan/Taliban – Taliban fighters are believed to have captured all passengers and crew of a Pakistani government helicopter that crash-landed in eastern Afghanistan. Afghan officials said the helicopter went down late on the 4 Aug 16 in Logar province, close to the Afghan-Pakistan border, an increasingly lawless area since a two-year Pakistani military operation pushed many Taliban and allied fighters further into Afghanistan. "The chopper was not shot but made the landing because of technical failure," Sameem Saleh, spokesman for Logar's governor said. "Those detained by the Taliban are Pakistanis." Nafees Zakaria, a spokesman for the Pakistani foreign office, confirmed that a helicopter belonging to the Punjab provincial government had gone down in Logar, but said the fate of those on board was not yet clear. "The Afghan authorities have assured they will investigate and learn about the whereabouts of the helicopter and the passengers," he said. Zakaria said that seven passengers were on board, six of them Pakistanis and one a Russian technician. The pilot was Pakistani. The Russian-made MI-17 transport helicopter had permission to fly over Afghan airspace on its way to Uzbekistan further north, he said. A senior Pakistani military official also said the Russian-made MI-17 transport helicopter was en route from Peshawar in northwest Pakistan to Uzbekistan for maintenance when it experienced technical failure and made an emergency landing. The crash came a few hours after a van carrying 12 tourists from the UK, US and Germany was attacked in the Chesht-e-Sharif district of Herat province in western Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. In a statement, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, Taliban spokesman, said the foreigners were killed - a claim Afghan officials denied. In a separate development, the US has withheld $300m in military assistance to Pakistan after the Pentagon concluded that the country was not taking adequate action against the Haqqani network, a Pakistan-based armed group aligned with the Taliban. Relations between US and Pakistan have been frayed over the past decade, with officials in the US frustrated by what they term Pakistan's unwillingness to act against armed groups such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network. Pakistan rejects harbouring fighters but says there are limits to how much it can do as it is already fighting multiple armed groups and is wary of a "blowback" in the form of more attacks on its soil. The $300m was not released because Ashton Carter, the US secretary of defence, decided against making a certification "that Pakistan has taken sufficient action against the Haqqani network", Adam Stump, Pentagon spokesperson, said on the 3 Aug 16. Pakistan is the largest recipient of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), a US government programme to reimburse allies that have incurred costs in supporting operations against armed groups. According to Pentagon data, about $14bn has already been paid to Pakistan under the CSF since 2002.
Pakistan – A powerful suicide blast in a hospital complex in the south-western Pakistani city of Quetta on the 8 Aug 16 killed more than 60 people and wounded at least 160 others, witnesses and police said. Hospital officials say that more than two dozen of those injured are in "critical condition," and fear the death toll could rise. Most of the victims are lawyers. The blast occurred shortly after dozens of lawyers gathered in Quetta's Civil Hospital to protest and mourn the killing of their provincial bar association's president in an early morning drive-by shooting by unknown gunmen. Journalists and television cameramen covering the lawyers' rally were also among those killed and wounded. A splinter faction of the extremist Pakistani Taliban, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) claimed responsibility for both killing the bar association president and the subsequent deadly bombing. A spokesman for the group said that a suicide bomber was deployed at the hospital anticipating lawyers and government officials would gather in large numbers. There was no independent confirmation of the claim. JuA claimed responsibility for an Easter attack in the second largest Pakistani city of Lahore in March in which more than 70 people were killed. The United States last week designated JuA as a global terrorist organization. Speaking to VOA, the provincial government spokesman, Anwar ul-Haq Kakar gave details of Monday's attack in Quetta. "This morning, unfortunately, one of our very distinguished lawyers, Bilal Anwar Kasi, was targeted and he was martyred in the early hours of the morning. As soon as his dead body was received by the lawyer community there was a huge blast. As a result we have got a huge number of injuries and many deaths." Provincial government and officials of the bomb disposal squad in Quetta have now confirmed the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber, saying they have recovered head and legs of the attacker form the site of the blast. Government spokesman Kakar said the violence appeared to be in a reaction to Pakistan's counter-terrorism and counter-extremism efforts. "The same terrorist groups which are religious and sectarian-inspired, we are suspecting that they are behind such heinous acts," he said. Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan province, where ethnic Baloch separatists and religious extremists routinely carry out such attacks.
Thailand – Thailand has tightened security after bomb attacks across the country killed four people and wounded many more, with authorities struggling to identify a motive and find the perpetrators on the 12 Aug 16. Twin bombs exploded in the upmarket resort of Hua Hin late on the 11 Aug 16 killing one woman and injuring more than 20 others. They were followed by two more on the morning of the 12 Aug 16 that killed another person. A further two blasts struck on the 12 Aug in the popular tourist town of Phuket, while two more bombs were reported in the southern provinces of Trang and Surat Thani, in each of which one person was killed. Last week, Thailand voted to accept a military-backed constitution despite claims by opponents that it will entrench the military's power and deepen divisions. Speaking from Bangkok, journalist Pailin Wedel quoted a police spokesperson as saying there is currently no evidence of any link between the different blasts. "They are also sticking to the line that they still do not have enough evidence that there are any links to outside terrorism, southern insurgency or anything that may be [tied] to the current political situation," said Wedel. Prayut Chan-o-Cha, the prime minister, called for calm and said that he did not know who was behind the attacks. "The bombs are an attempt to create chaos and confusion," he said in a conversation with reporters. "We should not make people panic more." "Why the bombs occurred as our country is heading towards stability, a better economy and tourism - and who did it - you have to find out for me." The two bombs that went off in Hua Hin on the 11 Aug 16 evening were hidden in potted plants and went off within 30 minutes of each other in the bar district of the popular beach town. While small bombings are common in Thailand during periods of heightened political tension, there have been few such incidents in the past year and it is rare for touristic areas to be targeted. Hua Hin is home to the summer palace of Thailand's royal family and the blast came on the eve of Queen Sirikit's 84th birthday and just before the first anniversary of a Bangkok shrine bombing that killed 20. Authorities were searching for leads on the attackers and a motive behind the latest blasts. According to staff at local hospitals, German, Italian, Dutch and Austrian nationals were among the injured. The latest blasts came just days before the first anniversary of the last major attack on tourists in Thailand - an August 17 bomb that killed 20 people, mostly ethnic Chinese tourists. The blast struck a crowded Hindu shrine in the heart of Bangkok and stunned the country as the deadliest assault in recent history. Two Uighur men from western China have been accused of the attack and are due to go on trial later this month. Both deny any involvement in the bombing and mystery continues to swirl around the case, with authorities failing to catch a number of other suspects or offer a thorough explanation for a motive. Thailand's military junta, which seized power in 2014 after a decade of at times violent political unrest, has touted an increase in stability in the kingdom as a major accomplishment of its rule. Yet the generals have failed to quell a long-running conflict in Thailand's three southernmost provinces - a region far from Bangkok or Hua Hin. The conflict is largely contained to the mostly Muslim far south although violence has occasionally spilled into other areas. Speaking from Hua Hin, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute for Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University, said: "I think the timing is striking here. Today is the 84th anniversary of the birthday of Her Majesty [Queen Sirikit]. "We had the referendum last Sunday (7 Aug) so it seems clear to me that this is a coordinated round of bomb attacks. "I think this has to do with domestic politics. It has something to do with anti-regime sentiments - anti-regime people who want to send a message that they don't like the outcome of the referendum."
Follow on Report: Thai police said on the 12 Aug 16 that a series of bombings that killed four people and rattled tourist destinations in the south were acts of local sabotage and not “terrorist” in nature. “This is not a terrorist attack. It is just local sabotage that is restricted to limited areas and provinces,” national police deputy spokesman Piyapan Pingmuang told reporters in Bangkok. At least 11 bombs, many of them twin blasts, hit five southern provinces over a 24 hours period. “It is still unclear which group is behind the bombings,” the spokesman said, though he dismissed speculation that Muslim rebels waging a rebellion in Thailand’s far south were behind the recent attacks. 361 COMMENT: It is very difficult to assess this current wave of attacks in the country. However, the police who are claiming that the 11 explosive devices were not acts of terrorism are delusional. There is no other category for these attacks. They were well planned and coordinated to cause an effect on the tourist industry which was spread over a large area. Another point is that the devices were similar to the Bangkok Shrine attack on the 17 Aug 15 and of a crude nature. What is unusual is no group has claimed the attacks especially with the amount of publicity that has been given to the attacks. Let’s not also forget that it nearly a year since the attack on the Shrine last year. If it was the same group then it was rather clever to attack one week before the anniversary rather than on the day or just after when security would have been raised. But we have to be frank, this was a series of terrorist attacks no matter what the police claim. One group that can be ruled out is Da’esh as they always create mass casualties when they carry out an attack using explosive devices. Police investigations will continue but there will be a spin put on these attacks for nothing else than to stop the fear in the tourist industry which Thailand, and many other countries, rely on. COMMENT ENDS
Turkey/Russia – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan flew into Russia on the 9 Aug 16 for his first meeting with counterpart Vladimir Putin since the two began healing a bitter rift over Turkey shooting down a Russian fighter jet. Erdogan's visit to Putin's hometown of St Petersburg is also his first foreign trip since a failed coup attempt last month that sparked a purge of alleged coup supporters in the military, judiciary, civil service and education sector, and cast a shadow over Turkey's relations with the West. "This visit seems to me a new milestone in bilateral relations, beginning with a clean slate, and I personally, with all my heart and on behalf of the Turkish nation salute President Putin and all Russians," Erdogan said in an interview with Russian state media before the visit. The shooting down of the Russian jet by a Turkish F-16 over the Syrian border in Nov 15 saw a furious Putin slap economic sanctions on Turkey and launch a blistering war of words with Erdogan that seemed to irrevocably damage burgeoning ties. "When the Turkish military shot down a Russian fighter jet that it said strayed from Syrian into Turkish airspace Moscow's retaliation was swift," it was reported from Istanbul. But, in a reversal in late Jun 16 Putin accepted a personal expression of regret over the incident from Erdogan as an apology, immediately rolled back a ban on the sale of package holidays to Turkey and signalled Moscow would end measures against food imports and construction firms from the country. Now, following the failed coup attempt, analysts say ties between the two could deepen - with Erdogan publicly making it clear he feels let down by the United States and the European Union. The Russian President was much quicker in his condemnation of the attempted coup than many of Turkey's Western allies and they've [the Western allies] also expressed alarm at the extent of the post-coup crackdown. Vladimir Putin hasn't got involved. Syria is expected to be high on the agenda during the visit. Moscow's military support for Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has been credited for helping to keep him in power. Turkey, though, wants him gone. "Currently Turkey cannot enter Syria, it cannot do anything in Syria because the Russian forces are there," Erhan Ersan, a Russian affairs specialist at Istanbul's Marmara University. "In order to solve that, they need to bring their positions closer to Russia. If you hear the messages coming from President Erdogan he's actually open to that. He wants to build a new framework of relations based on Syria with Russia as well." The head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition welcomed the meeting. Speaking at a press conference in Istanbul on the 8 Aug 16 Anas al-Abda said Erdogan’s visit could be a "positive step" for finding a solution to a ruinous war that has killed hundreds of thousands. “We consider the Turkish president as a key ally of the Syrian people," al-Abda told Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency. "He has a chance to propose ideas and initiatives to Russians and to explain them the current situation in Syria." 361 COMMENT: This issue is more serious than it looks. Turkey who is part of NATO is now siding with NATO’s biggest problem, that of Russia and the conflict in the Ukraine. Russia and the United States are using Turkish airfields to launch air attacks against Da’esh in Iraq and Syria. There is also the European migrant issue to consider. Turkey may have felt let down by the West’s response to the coup but it was cautious. Russia on the other hand appears to becoming more of an influence in the Region and satellite countries such as Turkey. The West will not be happy with this arrangement and will look to see what can be done for future cooperation with Turkey. COMMENT ENDS
Turkey – At least eight people, mostly civilians, were killed on the 10 Aug 16 in two separate bomb attacks targeting police blamed on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants in Turkey's southeast, officials said. Five people, all civilians, were killed in a car bomb attack in the centre of the city of Diyarbakir, the regional governor's office said in a statement. Twelve people were injured including five police, it added. Another three people -- two civilians and one policeman -- lost their lives in a near-simultaneous car bombing in Kiziltepe in Mardin province to the south, said Transport Minister Ahmet Arslan, quoted by the state-run Anadolu news agency. Fifteen civilians were injured in the attack which took place close to the town's hospital, he added. Both bomb attacks had been aimed at passing police vehicles but ended up killing mainly civilians. Pictures showed the force of the explosion caused considerable damage to nearby buildings and vehicles in the Mardin bombing. The authorities believe both blasts have been carried out by the PKK, a Turkish official said. Earlier on the 10 Aug 16 five Turkish soldiers were killed in an attack blamed on PKK militants in Uludere in the south-eastern Sirnak province close to the Iraqi border. Eight other soldiers were injured.
Turkey/Iran – The foreign ministers of Turkey and Iran have pledged greater cooperation on resolving the Syria crisis, vowing to keep the dialogue open despite their differences. At a joint news conference on the 12 Aug 16 in Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said the two neighbouring nations have agreed to "keep closer contact" on the issue of the "territorial integrity of Syria". Iran and Turkey have held opposing positions on Syria, with Iran backing the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Turkey advocating his departure. Despite the differences, Turkey and Iran will "strengthen cooperation for a lasting peace in Syria", Cavusoglu said. Zarif also said that Iran was "ready to work and cooperate" with Turkey and Russia on the issue of Syria, adding that it welcomed "the new cooperation that has started" between Moscow and Ankara. "We believe all sides should work together to return tranquillity and calm to the region and fight extremism in Syria," he said. Zarif added that their differences "can be resolved through dialogue". The Iranian official also expressed support to Turkey over last month's failed coup attempt, praising the Turkish people for defying the "overthrow and use of force". "We believe that the era of bullying and coups is over and [these things] no longer have a place in our region. People’s choice cannot be suppressed by a military group," he was quoted by PressTV as saying. Zarif's visit was the first meeting between top Iranian and Turkish officials since the July 15 failed coup attempt. Turkey has complained about a lack of support from its Western allies over the attempted coup. A report from Ankara, said that some were "analysing this meeting and rapprochement ... as a message to the West, as some sort of political leverage", after the coup attempt. Despite the meeting, however, Khodr said that there was still "no common ground" on Syria, and that there were still "deep disagreements" on how to resolve the civil war. Zarif is also expected to meet with Turkish President Receipt Tayyip Erdogan, according to the Turkish foreign ministry.
Turkey/al-Jazeera – The Turkish government has hosted Iran's top diplomat, in a move seen as a shift in foreign policy after last month's failed coup attempt it was reported by al-Jazeera on the 13 Aug 16. Turkey has been unhappy with the West’s muted response to the coup bid and frustrated with continued criticism of its human rights record. The Iranian foreign minister's visit came just days after a meeting by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, during which the two leaders agreed to normalise ties after the shooting down of a Russian fighter plane on the Turkish-Syria border last year. So many are asking whether these moves mark a shift in Turkey's global alliances, and what impact will they have on the war in neighbouring Syria? (http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestory/2016/08/turkey-undergoing-shift-foreign-policy-160812165540441.html)
Turkey/PKK – At least four police officers and three civilians, including a child, have been killed in a powerful car bomb explosion outside a police station near Turkey's south-eastern city of Diyarbakir, according to state media on the 15 Aug 16. Local officials blamed the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels for the attack, according to a news agency. No group, however, had yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
Vietnam – Vietnam has discreetly fortified several of its islands in the disputed South China Sea with new mobile rocket launchers capable of striking China's runways and military installations across the vital trade route, according to Western officials on the 10 Aug 16. Diplomats and military officers said that intelligence shows Hanoi has shipped the launchers from the Vietnamese mainland into position on five bases in the Spratly islands in recent months, a move likely to raise tensions with Beijing. The launchers have been hidden from aerial surveillance and they have yet to be armed, but could be made operational with rocket artillery rounds within two or three days, according to the three sources. Vietnam's Foreign Ministry said the information was "inaccurate", without elaborating. Deputy Defence Minister, Senior Lieutenant-General Nguyen Chi Vinh, said in Singapore in Jun 16 that Hanoi had no such launchers or weapons ready in the Spratlys but reserved the right to take any such measures. "It is within our legitimate right to self-defence to move any of our weapons to any area at any time within our sovereign territory," he said. The move is designed to counter China's build-up on its seven reclaimed islands in the Spratlys archipelago. Vietnam's military strategists fear the building runways, radars and other military installations on those holdings have left Vietnam's southern and island defences increasingly vulnerable. Military analysts say it is the most significant defensive move Vietnam has made on its holdings in the South China Sea in decades. Hanoi wanted to have the launchers in place as it expected tensions to rise in the wake of the landmark international court ruling against China in an arbitration case brought by the Philippines, foreign envoys said. The ruling last month, stridently rejected by Beijing, found no legal basis to China's sweeping historic claims to much of the South China Sea. Vietnam, China and Taiwan claim all of the Spratlys while the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim some of the area. "China has indisputable sovereignty over the Spratly islands and nearby waters," China’s Foreign Ministry said in a faxed statement on the 10 Aug 16. "China resolutely opposes the relevant country illegally occupying parts of China’s Spratly islands and reefs and on these illegally occupied Spratly islands and reefs belonging to China carrying out illegal construction and military deployments.” The United States is also monitoring developments closely. "We continue to call on all South China Sea claimants to avoid actions that raise tensions, take practical steps to build confidence, and intensify efforts to find peaceful, diplomatic solutions to disputes," a State Department official said. Foreign officials and military analysts believe the launchers form part of Vietnam's state-of-art EXTRA rocket artillery system recently acquired from Israel. EXTRA rounds are highly accurate up to a range of 150 km (93 miles), with different 150 kg (330 lb) warheads that can carry high explosives or bomblets to attack multiple targets simultaneously. Operated with targeting drones, they could strike both ships and land targets. That puts China's 3,000-metre runways and installations on Subi, Fiery Cross and Mischief Reef within range of many of Vietnam's tightly clustered holdings on 21 islands and reefs. While Vietnam has larger and longer range Russian coastal defence missiles, the EXTRA is considered highly mobile and effective against amphibious landings. It uses compact radars, so does not require a large operational footprint - also suitable for deployment on islets and reefs. "When Vietnam acquired the EXTRA system, it was always thought that it would be deployed on the Spratlys...it is the perfect weapon for that," said Siemon Wezeman, a senior arms researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). There is no sign the launchers have been recently test fired or moved. China took its first Spratlys possessions after a sea battle against Vietnam's then weak navy in 1988. After the battle, Vietnam said 64 soldiers with little protection were killed as they tried to protect a flag on South Johnson reef - an incident still acutely felt in Hanoi. In recent years, Vietnam has significantly improved its naval capabilities as part of a broader military modernization, including buying six advanced Kilo submarines from Russia. Carl Thayer, an expert on Vietnam's military at the Australian Defence Force Academy, said the deployment showed the seriousness of Vietnam's determination to militarily deter China as far as possible. "China's runways and military installations in the Spratlys are a direct challenge to Vietnam, particularly in their southern waters and skies, and they are showing they are prepared to respond to that threat," he said. "China is unlikely to see this as purely defensive, and it could mark a new stage of militarization of the Spratlys." Trevor Hollingsbee, a former naval intelligence analyst with the British defence ministry, said he believed the deployment also had a political factor, partly undermining the fear created by the prospect of large Chinese bases deep in maritime Southeast Asia. "It introduces a potential vulnerability where they was none before - it is a sudden new complication in an arena that China was dominating," he said.