Afghan police probe Fahim bomb attack amid fears of unravelling security
Tuesday April 9, 11:42 PM
Afghan police have made a series of arrests over an apparent assassination bid against Defence Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim amid mounting evidence of unravelling security.
At least four people were believed to have been killed and some 50 injured in the attack on Monday in the eastern city of Jalalabad when a explosive device went off seconds before a convoy carrying the minister passed by.
The assassination attempt came just days after intelligence chiefs detained more than 250 people for allegedly plotting a massive bomb campaign against the interim administration.
"A number of people have been arrested who are thought to have been behind this attack," Din Mohammad Jurat, head of the common law and order department at the interior ministry, told AFP.
"They were detained after the police authorities in Jalalabad raised suspicions about their possible links to the attack."
But the official added that no charges had been filed and it was still unclear exactly who was responsible for the blast.
Earlier, defence ministry official Mir Jan had said authorities were still in the dark about a motive.
Asked who was thought to have been behind the attack, Jan said: "Opponents of peace, security and the prosperity of the people of Afghanistan. For the time being I cannot accuse anyone in particular."
The attack in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, is the latest in a series of incidents that have thrown up fears over the security situation in Afghanistan.
Intelligence chiefs claimed to have discovered explosives-making equipment during a series of raids last week which led to the detention of some 260 people for allegedly planning a mass bomb campaign against the interim administration.
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), whose remit is limited to Kabul, has come under increasing attack in recent weeks. Two rockets were fired at an ISAF compound early Sunday while British and German patrols have been shot at in recent days.
American-led coalition forces have also been encountering continued resistance from Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in eastern Afghanistan six months after the start of their bombing campaign.
Much of the most recent fighting has been concentrated in Paktia, the neighbouring province to Nangarhar.
Leaflets have been distributed in eastern provinces threatening local citizens who collaborate with the coalition allies as well as offering 100,000 dollar rewards for the capture of Western servicemen.
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld however insisted that the attempt on Fahim was not indicative of a general breakdown in security.
"There isn't a country in that region that doesn't have attacks from time to time," Rumsfeld told reporters in Washington Monday.
"I think it's just a sign of the times," he said.
"What you have is a government that is going to field problems as they occur. It is going to successfully stop some of them, it's going to capture people after the fact in the case of others, and life will bump along in a somewhat imperfect, untidy way."
The European Union's special representative to Afghanistan Dr Klaus-Peter Klaiber said Tuesday that discussions about more ad-hoc security measures were being held between the international community and the interim government.
"I cannot at the moment go into details in this respect but I think the discussions are ongoing and I think a way will be found to solve these problems," he said.
Fahim arrived back in Kabul late Monday and worked into the early hours of the morning, according to Jan. The minister was back at his desk Tuesday but refused to make himself available to waiting journalists
Tuesday April 9, 11:19 PM
British peacekeeper accidentally shot in Kabul
KABUL (Reuters) - A British peacekeeping soldier was accidentally shot and seriously wounded while on patrol in the Afghan capital on Tuesday and British military police were investigating the incident, a military spokesman said.
A statement issued by Lieutenant-Colonel Neal Peckham, the British military spokesman for the multi-national International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said the "incident" in which the soldier was shot in the head, did not involve enemy fire.
It was the first casualty among Britain 2,000-strong ISAF contingent since the peacekeepers arrived in Kabul at the end of December, although British and other members of the 18-nation force have occasionally come under fire.
"While the matter is under full investigation by the Royal Military Police we are satisfied that this regrettable incident did not involve any party outside of ISAF," the statement said.
The soldier was shot in the head while on an eight-man foot patrol near the village of Barjay in an area of southwest Kabul that has been the focus of British and other ISAF patrols in recent weeks because of an outbreak of armed robberies.
The robberies have been blamed on unemployed Northern Alliance soldiers who helped to drive the Taliban from power.
The soldiers, mainly ethnic Tajiks from hundreds of miles away in northern Afghanistan near the border with the former Soviet republics, are followers of local warlords there.
They have not been paid for months and have no official standing in Afghanistan's new security forces.
The soldier, from a battalion of the Royal Anglia regiment, was shot at 10:50 a.m. (0620 GMT) -- just as British soldiers were starting a commemoration ceremony in Kabul for the funeral of the Queen Mother in London.
The Queen Mother was colonel-in-chief of the Royal Anglia regiment which for the past month has had about half of its 1,000 troops on duty with ISAF in Kabul.
With the ceremony just underway, British medical staff were summoned to go to the aid of the soldier several miles away, journalists at the service said.
ISAF soldiers, mainly welcomed by Kabul residents for the security they have brought, have been fired on in the capital during patrols on a few occasions but there have been no injuries.
In the worst casualty toll among the peacekeepers, three Danish and two German soldiers died last month when the abandoned Soviet-era rocket they were dismantling exploded.
"ISAF is mandated to provide security assistance to the Afghan Interim Administration. This task does involve risk. This incident (Tuesday's) occurred whilst the casualty was meeting these responsibilities on patrol in western Kabul," the statement said.
Tuesday April 9, 10:00 PM
Special Summary Of The War On Terrorism
The U.S. and Europe are stepping up efforts to shut off sources of financing for terrorism, U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said Tuesday, adding that new joint lists identifying terrorists' assets will be announced in the future.
O'Neill arrived here earlier Tuesday, part of a four-day visit to Europe where he is asking for more coordination with the U.S. in blocking terrorist assets.
Accidental Gunshot Injures U.K. Peacekeeper In Afghanistan
A British peacekeeper was shot and seriously injured Tuesday when a gun accidentally went off while he was on patrol in a dangerous area of western Kabul, a spokesman for the international security force said.
The soldier was hit in the head by a bullet and was taken to a nearby French hospital, and then flown out of the country, said Lt. Col. Neal Peckham. Peckham wouldn't say whether the soldier was hit from a bullet from his own gun or that of one of his colleagues.
Suspected Al-Qaida Member Accused Of Waging War Vs India
A Muslim man suspected to be a member of the al-Qaida terror network was formally charged Tuesday with waging war against India, an offense punishable by death.
Mohammed Afroz, who had been in detention since Oct. 2, was freed on 100,000 rupees ($1=INR48.89) bail pending further investigations.
Police claim Afroz, a resident of the western metropolis of Bombay, has confessed to being part of a plan by al-Qaida to hijack a plane and crash it into the British Parliament. He also reportedly told investigators that he was planning to attack buildings in Australia and New Delhi.
Poppy Eradication Protests Strand Afghan Refugees
Protests by poppy farmers furious over a new government anti-drug campaign have stranded thousands of Afghan refugees trying to return home from Pakistan, a U.N. spokesman said Tuesday.
Adding to the problems, an explosion that tore through a crowd lining a road to welcome Afghanistan's defense minister has temporarily closed down a distribution center that hands out aid to returning refugees in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, said Yusuf Hassan, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Return Of Afghan Refugees Sparks Housing Crisis In Kabul
A housing crisis brought on by the return of thousands of refugees to Afghanistan's war-ravaged capital Kabul has led to soaring rents that are forcing many poor and middle-class people from their homes. Even relatively wealthy Afghan exiles are finding they can't afford to live in the upscale neighborhoods they fled.
The U.N. refugee agency estimates that upward of 8,000 people are streaming back to Afghanistan every day, and about 3,000 of them are coming to Kabul. They are finding the homes they left in ruins, and the rents they have to pay above their means.
U.S. To Send More G.I.'s To Yemen, Philippines - NYT
The Pentagon is preparing to increase its commitment to the global war on terror by readying new troops to deploy to Yemen and the Philippines in the next few weeks, military officials said, The New York Times reported in its Tuesday editions.
A logistics assessment team is in Yemen now preparing for the arrival of as many as 150 American troops to help train that nation's military to fight terrorism. Pentagon officials said an initial group of 50 to 70 troops would be sent by the end of the month, with the remainder arriving in the weeks after.
Karzai Says Afghanistan Govt Will Restore Buddha Statues
Interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai said Tuesday his government will rebuild giant statues of Buddha that were destroyed by the Taliban last year.
Karzai made the promise during a brief visit to this central Afghan homeland of the Hazara ethnic minority, which suffered considerable abuse at the hands of the Taliban.
For all of the stories on the War on Terrorism, search N/911
Tuesday April 9, 6:07 PM
Powell likely to get earful from Egypt
US Secretary of State Colin Powell headed to Cairo for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak amid anger over "American passivity toward Israel's barbaric agression" against the Palestinians.
Despite the skepticism, Mubarak is expected to ask Powell, who left Casablanca for Cairo on Tuesday, to stand by Yasser Arafat as leader of the Palestinians and secure Israel's immediate pullout from the West Bank.
Powell wants to cement an international consensus for a ceasefire, partly using Arab pressure to stop suicide bombings, but Morocco and Saudi Arabia have already criticised him for not doing enough to stop the 12-day Israeli military offensive.
Egyptian commentators, reflecting some of the rage that has emerged in anti-Israeli and even anti-US street protests, were doubtful that Powell would achieve much in his peace mission.
"The political ignorance of the US leadership is behind American passivity toward the barbaric Israeli aggression against the Palestinians," the government-run al-Akhbar newspaper said in a page-one editorial.
"Washington does not want to understand that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is the source of all the catastrophes that the Middle East region knows and that Sharon's aggression is the real terrorism that the United States must fight," it said.
"Will Mr. Powell show sympathy with Sharon and will he then ask the Arabs and Palestinians to announce their surrender and accept Israeli conditions?" for peace, Al Ahram newspaper asked.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said here Monday that Egypt will tell Washington that "Arafat is the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and nobody has the right to doubt his legitimacy or change the Palestinian leadership."
Egyptian political analyst Salama Ahmed Salama, who also writes for Al-Ahram, told AFP he expected Mubarak to personally deliver this message to Powell when they meet here on Tuesday.
US President George W. Bush has repeatedly accused Arafat of failing to lead his people by missing opportunities for peace, fueling Arab fears that he backs Sharon's attempt to exile or eliminate him.
Maher also said it is "important that the Israelis do not succeed in convincing the Americans that they are waging with them a battle against terrorism because that is a falsification of the facts.
"What happened in Afghanistan has nothing to do with what is happening in Palestine," Maher said, echoing a stand taken by him and other Arab foreign ministers here Saturday that Palestinian acts amounted to resistance, not terror.
If Powell seeks a promise from Arab leaders to pressure Arafat to stop suicide bombings, "he will not get it," Salama said.
Salama expressed doubts about chances for the success of Powell's mission, as he was coming without a "clearcut timetable" for an Israeli withdrawal.
As in Morocco and other Arab countries, there have been mass anti-Israeli protests in Egypt, where protestors also vented anger at what they perceived as flagrant US bias toward Israel.
Tuesday April 9, 4:35 PM
Australia leads world in refugee resettlement, says govt
SYDNEY, April 9 (AFP) -
Australia leads the world in the resettlement of refugees despite vehement international criticism of its treatment of asylum seekers, Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said Tuesday.
Australia had now overtaken Canada as the world's most generous recipient of refugees on a per capita basis, Ruddock told journalists in Sydney.
He also rejected criticisms of the government's policy of despatching asylum seekers intercepted by the Australian navy to offshore holding centres on Pacific islands while their claims for sanctuary were assessed.
The minister's comments followed an assessment by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which revealed Monday that 147 of 529 asylum seekers sent by Australia to Nauru qualified as legitimate refugees.
Australian immigration officials have also assessed as legitimate 164 of 194 applications for refugee status among detainees on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island and on Nauru.
However, just seven of 292 Afghan asylum seekers have been successful thus far.
Ruddock warned that "if you are of the view that Australia should have anything to apologise for... think again".
"We have the largest per capita refugee resettlement program in the world."
He said those asylum seekers interned in Papua New Guinea and on Nauru under the government's so-called Pacific Solution "who are found to be refugees do not automatically get a resettlement outcome."
Otherwise, the nine countries who accepted asylum seekers recognised by the UNHCR would be faced with resettling some 14 million people from around the globe between them.
The urgency of resettling those who qualified as refugees but remained interned in Papua New Guinea and Nauru was mitigated by the fact they no longer faced the immediate risk of persecution, the minister said.
Nauru, a tiny Pacific state with a population of around 12,000, is being paid by the Australian government under the Pacific Solution to keep 1,118 asylum seekers in a purpose-built detention centre.
More than 1,000 people still held in Papua New Guinea and Nauru are yet to be assessed.
Ruddock hailed the Pacific Solution as a success, given that no asylum seeker vessels had breached Australian waters for five months.
Without its implementation late last year, the rate of illegal entry to Australia by asylum seekers paying Indonesian-based people smugglers to ferry them here would have resulted in up to 12,000 such arrivals annually, Ruddock said.
He said Australia would accept some, but not all of, the offshore detainees designated by the UNHCR as refugees.
Negotiations are believed to be continuing with New Zealand, Sweden and Ireland about accepting others.
"Inevitably, people who are not refugees will go home one way or another," Ruddock said, adding that Afghanistan's interim government had signalled conditions in the war-torn country were sufficiently safe for refugees to return.
"The idea that Afghanistan for the generality of Afghans is unsafe is untrue," he said, despite a UNHCR statement on Monday appealing for host countries not to "return Afghans on an involuntary basis until June at the earliest".
Tuesday April 9, 1:21 AM
Afghan mass grave reports may be premature: Red Cross officials
Reports of mass graves containing victims of the Taliban in Afghanistan may have been premature, the local head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.
"It is a bit early to speak of mass graves," ICRC's Werner Amrein told AFP after touring sites identified by local officials in central Bamiyan province.
"We will follow it. It may be true, there are thousands of people missing in Afghanistan."
Amrein was speaking a day after a United Nations team confirmed the existence of three mass grave sites in Bamiyan, 100 kilometres (63 miles) north of Kabul.
According to local officials, the sites, all within 10 kilometres of the provincial capital Bamiyan city, contained at least 35 adult and child victims of the hardline Taliban regime.
Amrein said he had been shown human skulls and bones at several sites and a well in which locals said around 35 bodies had been thrown by the Taliban. He said he had yet to verify the claims.
"If there are 35 bodies in the well, then for me it is a mass grave," he added.
On Sunday a UN verification team visited Bamiyan and confirmed the existence of mass grave sites, without specifying how many bodies were involved.
"They (the team) have been in the area and identified the sites and confirmed the existence of the sites," UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said.
The bodies were said to be those of ethnic Hazaras, killed shortly before the collapse of the Taliban regime last year.
The Shiite Hazaras suffered badly for their fierce resistance to the Taliban, enduring numerous attacks, including a massacre in 1998 in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif in which several thousand were killed.
Tuesday April 9, 3:33 PM
Australia ordered not to detain mentally disturbed Afghan refugee
The Supreme Court of South Australia blocked moves by authorities to return a mentally disturbed Afghan asylum seeker to the remote Woomera detention centre.
The court was told that Qader Fedayee, 18, is suffering severe post-traumatic stress after fleeing from Afghanistan when his parents were murdered by the Taliban.
He has spent the past month in an Adelaide psychiatric hospital where he will be permitted to remain after the court issued an order preventing the Department of Immigration from sending him to any detention centre, at least until April 16.
It was claimed the youth curled up in a foetal position, wailing, when told he might be sent back to the Woomera detention centre, and that a return to detention would seriously risk his health and safety.
Outside the court, the state public advocate John Harley said he had been extremely frustrated at having to take the matter to court.
"I really have had little or no cooperation with the Department of Immigration at all," Harley said.
"This young man came out here on his own from Afghanistan, he saw his mother and father murdered. It's presumed his brothers and sisters have been murdered as well.
"His post-traumatic stress disorder is so severe that he goes into what's called a disassociated state where in fact he has got no knowledge or awareness of what's going on around him.
"When he found out that it was likely that he was to return to Woomera he entered into his dissociated state and he was on the ground in a foetal position wailing."
The chairwoman of the Australian Psychological Society college of clinical psychologists, Susan Ballinger, said it would be inappropriate to send the teenager back to the Outback camp.
"I would object to a person with a diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder being put back into Woomera," she said.
"That's not appropriate, not without treatment, particularly if the post-traumatic stress syndrome like the flashbacks and the nightmares and things like that, are related to the experiences within the detention centre."
She said she would be willing to meet Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock to discuss mental health issues relating to detention centres.
Fedayee's case was listed to reappear in the Supreme Court on April 15.
Tuesday April 9, 9:53 PM
Karzai promises jobs to Shi'ite Afghan minority
By Sayed Salahuddin
BAMIYAN, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai went on Tuesday to Bamiyan Province where three mass graves have been reported which residents say are filled with people killed while the Taliban controlled the region.
Karzai spoke to a big crowd on a plateau facing gaping holes in a cliff where 1,000-year-old giant Buddha statues stood until last year, when the Taliban destroyed them as unIslamic.
But he did not immediately go to the site of the mass graves and officials in his entourage said they did not know if he would.
A Karzai spokesman said in Kabul earlier the Afghan leader flew to Bamiyan in central Afghanistan by helicopter because he wanted to see the grave sites for himself.
But Karzai's prime aim in the bastion of the minority Shi'ite Hazara group -- about 20 percent of Afghanistan's largely Sunni population -- appeared to be to assure people he said had suffered even more than most that better times were ahead.
"There's no doubt the whole of Afghanistan suffered and burned and people were killed, but the Hazaras and Bamiyan faced the most suffering," he said as U.S. special forces troops and Hazara soldiers on horseback stood guard.
"The interim government intends to pave all the roads leading to central Afghanistan so that the people of the area can trade easily," he said.
According to an Asian Development Bank report issued on Tuesday, just 13 percent of Afghanistan's 21,000 km (13,000 miles) of roads are paved.
Bamiyan has long been one of the most cut-off parts of Afghanistan and the promise of decent roads was met by a loud cheer from people who had travelled for many miles to sit cross-legged on the ground to hear Karzai speak.
A promise of jobs once a U.N plan to reconstruct a country shattered by two decades of war got off the ground won Karzai another loud cheer.
Karim Khalili, leader of the Hezb-i-Wahdat party which represents Hazaras, promised Karzai support. "Men and women, we are all behind you," he said.
MUCH FOUGHT OVER
Bamiyan has been much fought over in recent years. In 1994 and 1995, Hezb-i-Wahdat was fighting what became the Northern Alliance which ousted the Taliban from power in December after U.S. bombers opened the way to the major cities.
The Taliban tried many times to subdue Bamiyan and the mountainous region changed hands several times until the Taliban finally took control 1998, a year after several thousand Taliban fighters were killed in the mountainous area.
The frequent changing of hands has left some doubts as to when the newly reported graves were filled.
A U.N. team has already visited the site but has not yet released details of findings from the first time in nearly five months since the fall of the Taliban it has swung into action to investigate possible war crimes in Afghanistan.
The mass graves were found on Friday near Bamiyan airport, some 125 km (80 miles) northwest of Kabul.
The United Nations has said it is possible forensic experts from outside Afghanistan would be called in if the investigation showed evidence of a mass crime.
The United Nations has reported that several hundred villagers, along with hospital staff and representatives of international organisations, were killed in Yakaolang, in western Bamiyan province, in January and February 2001.
Hazara commanders alleged that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar personally authorised the killings.
A U.N. report at the time said men were rounded up and shot outside a relief agency, near a hospital and behind a mosque
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