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25 killed in terror attack in Kabul; 4 gunman killed

KABUL, Mar 25: Twenty-five people were killed and around 10 injured when suicide attackers stormed a Sikh place of worship in the Afghan capital on Wednesday, triggering a six-hour standoff with security forces.

The Islamic State claimed the attack, with a statement issued by the group to the Afghan media saying its members carried out the assault.

The attackers targeted a ‘dharamshala’ in Shor Bazar area of Kabul, which has a sizeable population of the Hindu and Sikh minorities. Reports said the attack began at 7.45 am Afghan time.

All four attackers were killed by Afghan and foreign forces, ending the face-off at the place of worship. Afghan interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian confirmed 25 people were killed and eight others injured.

Arian said more than 80 people, including women and children, were rescued by Afghan special forces. Afghan MP Narender Singh Khalsa said up to 150 people were praying at the ‘dharamshala’ when the attack began.

Images of the shrine posted on social media showed bloodstains on its floor. Other photos showed security forces and local residents evacuating the injured in ambulances. Witnesses said they heard several explosions during the gun battle.

Arian told the media that the suicide attackers entered the ‘dharamshala’ and began exchanging fire with security forces.

The Taliban denied involvement in the attack in messages sent to the Afghan media. Afghan officials said information obtained by security agencies suggested the Haqqani Network, which has close ties to Pakistan’s security establishment, could have been behind the attack.

India condemned the attack and said it was ready to extend all possible assistance to the affected families from the Hindu and Sikh communities.

“Such cowardly attacks on the places of religious worship of the minority community, especially at this time of Covid-19 pandemic, are reflective of the diabolical mindset of the perpetrators and their backers,” the external affairs ministry said in a statement.

The statement commended the Afghan security forces for their “valorous response to the attack and their exemplary courage and dedication”. The statement added: “India stands in solidarity with the people, the government and the security forces of Afghanistan in their efforts for bringing peace and security to the country.”

The attack was also condemned by Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri. “These killings are a grim reminder of atrocities that continue to be inflicted upon religious minorities in some countries & the urgency with which their lives & religious freedom have to be safeguarded,” he tweeted.

The Shor Bazar area of Kabul was once home to several gurdwaras but they were destroyed during the fighting in the 1980s. Many Hindus and Sikhs living in the area also migrated to other countries. Kabul is still home to several thousand Hindus and Sikhs.

North Korea launches unidentified projectile

SEOUL, Mar 2: North Korea fired two unidentified projectiles from a coastal area Monday as it resumed weapons demonstrations following a months-long hiatus.

The launches came two days after North Korea’s state media said leader Kim Jong Un supervised an artillery drill aimed at testing the combat readiness of units in front-line and eastern areas.

Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff confirmed the launches in a statement but couldn’t immediately confirm how far the projectiles flew or whether the weapons were ballistic or rocket artillery.

During a key ruling party meeting in late December, Kim expressed deep frustration over deadlocked diplomacy with the United States and said he won’t denuclearize if the U.S. persists with its hostile policy on his country. He also said he would unveil a new “strategic weapon” soon and no longer be bound by a self-imposed weapons test moratorium that coincided with his diplomacy with Trump.

Nuclear diplomacy between North Korea and the U.S. has largely stalled since the breakdown of Kim’s second summit with Trump in February 2019 in Vietnam. That summit collapsed because Trump rejected Kim’s demands for broad sanctions relief in return for dismantling his main nuclear complex, a limited disarmament step. Subsequent talks between Pyongyang and Washington reported little progress.

After the failed Hanoi summit, North Korea carried out a slew of short-range missile and other weapons tests. Trump downplayed them saying there were short-range weapons that didn’t pose a direct threat to the U.S. mainland.

Taliban say will resume operations against Afghanistan forces

KABUL, Mar 2: The Taliban said Monday they were resuming offensive operations against Afghan security forces, ending the partial truce that preceded the signing of a deal between the insurgents and Washington.

The declaration comes only a day after President Ashraf Ghani said he would continue the partial truce at least until talks between Afghan officials and the Taliban kick-off, supposedly on March 10.

It ran for one week ahead of the signing of the historic accord in Doha on Saturday, and continued over the weekend.

“The reduction in violence... has ended now and our operations will continue as normal,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

“As per the (US-Taliban) agreement, our mujahideen will not attack foreign forces but our operations will continue against the Kabul administration forces.”

Fawad Aman, deputy spokesman for the defence ministry said the government was “checking to see if (the truce) had ended”.

“We have not had any reports of any big attacks in the country yet”, he added.

Since the deal signing on Saturday, the Taliban have been publicly celebrating their “victory” over the US.

Under the terms of the deal, foreign forces will quit Afghanistan within 14 months, subject to Taliban security guarantees and a pledge by the insurgents to hold talks with the Kabul government.

The dramatic fall in attacks due to last week’s partial truce between the Taliban, US and Afghan forces offered Afghans a rare opportunity to go about their daily lives without fear of violence.

Ghani warned the insurgents Monday that he was not committed to a key clause in the Doha deal involving the release of thousands of Taliban prisoners.

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