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July 06, 2019

ISTANBUL (AP) — A decade after deadly riots tore through his hometown, Kamilane Abudushalamu still vividly recalls the violence that left him an exile. On July 5, 2009, Abudushalamu was hiding with his father on the 10th floor of an office tower in Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang region that is home to the Turkic Uighur ethnic minority. By a park, he spotted a bus on fire. Then he heard a crack as a motorcycle nearby exploded.

Hours later, when he and his father stepped out to sprint home, he saw crowds of Uighurs stabbing Han Chinese in front of a middle school. The bodies of half a dozen people lay scattered on the streets — just a fraction of the estimated 200 killed that night.

Abudushalamu and tens of thousands of other Uighurs now live in Turkey, cut off from friends and family back home. Analysts say the Urumqi riots set in motion the harsh security measures now in place across Xinjiang, where about 1 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslims are estimated to be held in heavily guarded internment camps. Former detainees have told The Associated Press that within, they are subject to indoctrination and psychological torture.

Abudushalamu was just 9 years old when the riots took place. At the time, he knew he was witnessing something terrible, but he never imagined where the following years would lead. “I thought Han and Uighur people could be at peace,” he said. “The camps? I never thought that would happen.”

DECADES OF RESENTMENT

The riots started as a peaceful protest.

Weeks before, Han workers killed at least two Uighur migrants in a brawl at a toy factory in Shaoguan, an industrial city in China’s coastal Guangdong province. The Han workers were angry about the alleged rapes of Han women by Uighur men, though a government investigation later concluded there was no evidence such an assault had taken place.

Images and videos of the brawl quickly circulated among Uighurs back in Xinjiang, including gory scenes of what appeared to be a Han Chinese man dragging a dead Uighur by his hair.

The videos enraged many Uighurs long upset with the Han-dominated government that took control of their region following the Communist revolution in 1949.

The litany of complaints was long: heavy restrictions on religious education, discrimination against college-educated Uighurs looking for jobs, subsidies and benefits for Han migrants to settle on lands once owned by Uighurs.

Among the most odious were threats from state officials of fines or even jail time if parents didn’t send their young, unmarried daughters to work in factories in inner China. “Hashar,” a program that forced farmers to pave roads, dig ditches, and clear land for crops for the government for no pay fueled further resentment.

The killed Uighur workers had been on a state employment program, sent more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) from home. For many, their deaths crystallized everything that was wrong about Beijing’s heavy-handed interventionist policies — and the belittling racism they felt they were subjected to by the Han Chinese.

The images spurred Urumqi students to organize a protest on July 5 demanding a government investigation. Demonstrators were stopped by police in the late afternoon, and tensions mounted until officers opened fire, Uighur witnesses say.

Two students present at the protests told AP that they were shot at. One recalled that as he turned and ran, bullets whizzed by his head and others around him dropped to the ground.

Furious Uighurs attacked Han civilians on the streets. An estimated 200 people were killed — stabbed, beaten or burned alive in the melees that followed. Uighurs smashed storefronts, overturned cars and buses and set some ablaze.

THE CRACKDOWN DESCENDS

Abudushalamu hid with his family for days as mobs of Uighurs and Han killed each other in cycles of bloody revenge.

When they stepped outside a few days later, the streets were eerily empty, Abudushalamu said. Then the police arrived and started shooting.

“Two maybe SWAT team (members) came after me and shot at me,” said Abudushalamu, now 19. “The bullet went through right behind my right ear. I’m lucky I’m still alive.”

In the days after the violence on July 5, 2009, Beijing had sent in thousands of troops to restore order. For weeks, they fired tear gas, raided businesses and swept through Uighur neighborhoods to arrest hundreds, many of whom were punished with decades in prison. The entire region of 20 million people was cut off from the internet for months in an attempt to curtail use of social media.

Normality had returned, but Xinjiang was never quite the same. Ethnic divisions hardened. Han Chinese avoided Uighur neighborhoods, and vice versa. Many Han Chinese steered clear of the whole of the region’s south, home to most of Xinjiang’s Uighurs, because they believed it was too dangerous.

Experts say that July 5 and the subsequent crackdown was a “turning point.”

“From that moment on, China took a very hard-line position toward the control of religion and the control of minority ethnic groups in the region,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southeast Asia. “It increased dramatically its security operation. That really is what led to the situation today.”

UNITED “LIKE POMEGRANATE SEEDS”

In the following years, a series of violent terror attacks rocked Xinjiang and elsewhere. Dozens of civilians were hacked to death at a busy train station in China’s south. A Uighur drove a car into crowds at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Forty-three died when men threw bombs from two sports utility vehicles plowing through a busy market street in Urumqi.

When newly appointed Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Xinjiang in 2014, bombs tore through an Urumqi train station, killing three and injuring 79. In a Xinjiang work conference shortly afterward, Xi called on the state to integrate different ethnicities and remold religion to ward off extremism.

“The more separatists attempt to sabotage our ethnic unity, the more we should try to reinforce it,” state media quoted Xi as saying. China’s ethnicities, Xi said, could and should be united like “the seeds of a pomegranate.”

Already tight limits on religion, culture, education and dress tightened even further, with restrictions on long beards and headscarves and the detentions of prominent Uighur academics and literary figures who were widely considered moderate advocates of traditional Uighur culture.

After a new party secretary was appointed to take control of Xinjiang in 2016, thousands began to vanish into a vast network of prison-like camps. Beijing calls them “vocational training centers” designed to ward off terrorism and root out extremist thoughts, but former detainees describe them as indoctrination centers which arbitrarily confine their inmates and subject them to torture and food deprivation.

That same year, Abudushalamu’s father had taken him to Turkey to study at a boarding school and then returned to China. The following June, he stopped responding to messages, and Abudushalamu never heard from his father again.

Abudushalamu finally discovered his father’s fate last year when an acquaintance in Turkey told him he saw his father in an internment camp. He says he has now heard of more than 50 family members that have been detained in Xinjiang. Researchers estimate the camps now hold 1 million or more Uighurs and other members of Xinjiang’s ethnic minorities.

Abudushalamu says there is no reason for authorities to “train” his father, a successful businessman who speaks nine languages.

“It’s delusional,” he said. “Why does he still need to be ‘educated?'”

Associated Press journalists Kiko Rosario in Bangkok and Yanan Wang in Beijing contributed to this report.

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2 June 2019

Algeria has postponed presidential elections planned for next month after the two candidates were disqualified. The polls were to elect a successor to Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who resigned after pressure from protesters.

Algeria’s Constitutional Council announced Sunday that it would be “impossible” for the presidential vote to go ahead on July 4 because the only two candidates in the race had been rejected.

The elections were planned after mass pro-democracy protests and pressure from the military forced long-time leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down in April.

Algerians have been holding marches for months, calling for political reforms and a clear break from the elite that dominated politics during Bouteflika’s two decades in power. The protesters have also demanded the polls be delayed over fears of vote rigging.

Two candidates rejected

Only two, largely unknown, candidates lodged bids by the deadline last week. The council said it had knocked back both application but did not explain why.

“Based on this decision, it is impossible to conduct the presidential elections on July 4,” the council said in a statement, according to Algeria’s official news agency APS.

The council added that it was now up to interim President Abdelkader Bensalah to set a date for a new vote. Bensalah had been appointed interim leader until July 9, but protesters say they want him gone.

On Friday, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators marched in the capital, Algiers, and other cities to demand his resignation, along with that of Bouteflika ally, Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui.

Source: allAfrica.

Link: https://allafrica.com/stories/201906030002.html.

By Darryl Coote

APRIL 11, 2019

April 11 (UPI) — Algeria’s newly appointed interim leader set July 4 to hold the presidential election following last week’s resignation of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Senate leader Abdelkader Bensalah, 77, made the televised announcement Wednesday, according to state-run media Algeria Press Service, which comes a day after Algerian lawmakers appointed him the nation’s interim president for the next 90 days.

Bensalah, who is unable to run in the election, also announced plans to create a “sovereign” body with both politicians and civil society in order to foster conditions necessary for an honest election process, Al Jazeera reported.

The announcement failed to placate protesters who have held mass demonstrations since February demanding a change in the country’s leadership.

The protests first erupted after President Bouteflika announcement late February that he would be running for a fifth term.

The 82-year-old Bouteflika, who had held tight to the reigns of his country since 1999, resigned April 2, after Algeria’s army chief said it would pursue a constitutional procedure to declare the ailing, wheelchair-bound president unfit to rule.

Despite Bouteflika’s resignation, protests persisted as the public worried the country’s rule would only shift to another member of the same regime, and Bensalah’s appointment did little to assuage those concerns as he had served as Speaker of the Council under Bouteflika.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Interior, Local Authorities and National Planning announced through the state-run Algeria Press Service Wednesday that it had authorized 10 political parties and 22 national and inter-provincial associations.

The ministry said it had examined files on the different parties and associations on a case-by-case basis and allowed 10 political parties “to hold their constituent congresses in accordance with the provisions of the organic law on political parties” while “certificates of approval have been issued to 22 national and inter-provincial associations.”

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: https://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2019/04/11/Algeria-to-hold-first-post-Bouteflika-presidential-election-July-4/3061554973003/.

By Allen Cone

APRIL 2, 2019

April 2 (UPI) — Lockheed Martin was awarded a $151.3 million contract to sell 15 F-35 Lightning II aircraft to Australia and six to Norway.

The contract for the 21 planes comes in the wake of the United States halting delivery of equipment related to the F-35 jet to Turkey because of the nation’s decision to purchase the Russian-made S-400 missile system. As a NATO partner in the development of the fighter jet, Turkey makes parts of the fuselage, landing gear and cockpit displays and was expecting the first of the $90 million jets to arrive in November.

The sale to Australia and Norway, which was a modification to a previously awarded advance acquisition, was announced Monday by the Defense Department.

Work is expected to be completed in December 2022 in U.S. and foreign plants. Thirty-percent will be performed in the company’s headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas; 25 percent in El Segundo, Calif.; 20 percent in Warton, United Kingdom; 10 percent in Orlando, Fla.; and 5 percent each on Nashua, N.H.; Nagoya, Japan, and Baltimore, Maryland.

Australia will pay $108.2 million and Norway $43.1 million under a cooperative agreement. The international partner funds in the full amount will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.

Australia received its first F-35s last December, and Norway received them in November 2017.

Australia and Norway are among six NATO countries that have received the planes, including the United States, Britain, Italy and the Netherlands. Two other nations that also participated in the aircraft’s development — Canada, Denmark and Turkey — are scheduled to receive the F-35.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: https://www.upi.com/Defense-News/2019/04/02/F-35s-for-Turkey-on-hold-as-US-approves-sales-for-Australia-Norway/3891554217447/.

March 07, 2019

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A group of evangelical pastors from the U.S. visited the predominantly Muslim Shiite nation of Azerbaijan to promote interfaith dialogue and highlight cooperation with Israel, with pastors saying Thursday the visit has already challenged their views about the potential for coexistence in America’s polarized landscape.

New York-based Rabbi Marc Schneier, who led the evangelical delegation, told The Associated Press from the capital of Baku that this was the first ever Christian evangelical delegation to visit Azerbaijan.

Most of Azerbaijan’s population of 10 million are Shiite but it’s also home to Sunnis, Christians and around 30,000 Jews, said the rabbi. The country shares borders with both Iran and Russia. The group, which included 12 U.S. pastors, met President Ilham Aliyev, the foreign minister, Muslim sheikhs, local church leaders, and Israel’s ambassador.

Schneier said Aliyev announced during the delegation’s visit that the country’s first-ever Jewish cultural center would be built in Baku with Kosher dining options and a hotel to accommodate Jewish guests.

The delegation also visited a Jewish school where children sang Hebrew songs for Israel. “I literally had to pinch— I had to pinch myself,” Schneier said. “Here I am in a Muslim majority country being welcomed into a Jewish school with all these Jewish children singing Israeli songs. It’s just a phenomenon that one would be able to experience anything like that.”

Schneier heads the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding based in New York and founded The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach, New York. He is at the forefront of building ties between Jews and Muslims in the U.S. and the Middle East. Through greater interreligious dialogue, he’s pushed for closer relations between Muslim leaders and the state of Israel.

Last year, there were visits by U.S. evangelicals to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates— two countries seeking to strengthen ties with the Trump administration through his evangelical base of supporters. The outreach is happening as Gulf Arab states simultaneously take their once-private outreach to Israel more public and work to isolate Iran.

Unlike Arab Gulf states, Azerbaijan already has diplomatic relations with Israel, its national carrier flies direct to Tel Aviv and its president hosted Israel’s prime minister in 2016. Pastor Adam Mesa, who leads the Abundant Living Family Church in Rancho Cucamonga, California, said it was his first time in a Muslim majority country. He was encouraged to take part in the trip because of Azerbaijan’s supportive Israeli stance and interreligious efforts.

For many U.S. evangelicals, support for Israel is at the very core of their faith. Most believe that before Jesus can return, Jews have to go back to the Holy Land. They also believe the return of the Messiah will follow the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, also the site of Islam’s sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

“There’s been this polarization in our country that we’re supposed to be separatists from one another and we’re supposed to not interact with one another,” Mesa said. “It’s incredible that a Muslim majority country is the one that has to actually lead the charge on religious dialogue and community and solidarity.”

He said his talks in Azerbaijan with Catholics, Jews and Muslim sheikhs held no friction, resentment or prejudging. “I think we really need to bring that attitude back to America,” he said. “I really want to emphasize that to my church and other political leaders.”

Pastor Calvin Battle, who leads Destiny Christian Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, described the visit as “absolutely incredible.” It was also his first time visiting a Muslim country and his first time in a dialogue with sheikhs and learning “how similar” the Abrahamic faiths are.

“I have to admit it’s kind of impaired my ignorances concerning the area and the region and what I came in with, presuppositions concerning the people,” he said. More than just promoting inter-religious tolerance, Azerbaijan too sees political currency in its outreach with Christians and Jews.

“From a political point of view, listen there is no question you know that Azerbaijan is looking to strengthen its relationship with the U.S. administration, with the United States Congress. Israel is very much a conduit to that,” Schneier said.

Azerbaijan’s president has maintained close ties with the West, helping protect its energy and security interests and to counterbalance Russia’s influence in the strategic Caspian region. At the same time, Aliyev’s government has long faced criticism in the West for alleged human rights abuses and suppression of dissent.

Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov contributed from Moscow.

March 21, 2019

SYDNEY (AP) — Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday tensions between his country and Turkey had eased after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office said comments by the Turkish leader that sparked the row had been taken out of context.

A diplomatic dispute flared over Erdogan’s comments in the wake of Friday’s gun massacre in which 50 people were killed at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, attacks for which an Australian white supremacist has been charged with murder.

Speaking while campaigning for local elections, Erdogan warned Australians and New Zealanders going to Turkey with anti-Muslim views would return home in coffins, like their ancestors who fought at Gallipoli in World War I.

Morrison slammed the comments as “highly offensive,” and on Wednesday summoned Turkish Ambassador to Australia, Korhan Karakoc, to explain the remarks. Australia also placed under review its travel advisory for its citizens visiting Turkey, which was already set at “exercise a high degree of caution” due to the threat of terrorism.

But on Thursday, Morrison said progress had been made on mending bilateral ties after a spokesman for Erdogan said the president’s words were “taken out of context.” Fahrettin Altun, director of communications for the Turkish presidency, said Erdogan was in fact responding to the manifesto posted online by the man arrested in the mosque attacks.

Altun also said Erdogan had made his remarks in a historical context relating to attacks past and present against Turkey, a move partly inspired, he said, by the fact the president was speaking near commemorative sites near the Gallipoli battlefields.

“President Erdogan’s words were unfortunately taken out of context,” Altun said on Twitter. “He was responding to the so-called ‘manifesto’ of the terrorist who killed 50 innocent Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand. Turks have always been the most welcoming & gracious hosts to their Anzac (Australia and New Zealand) visitors.

“The terrorist’s manifesto not only targeted Erdogan himself but also the Turkish people and the Turkish state. “As he was giving the speech at the Canakkale (Gallipoli) commemoration, he framed his remarks in a historical context of attacks against Turkey, past and present.”

Morrison on Thursday welcomed what he called a “moderation” of Erdogan’s views, which followed a series of high-level bilateral diplomatic communications on the matter. “Overnight, progress has been made on this issue and overnight we’ve already seen a moderation of the president’s views,” Morrison told reporters in Melbourne.

“It’s my intention to break any cycle of recklessness, to work through these issues practically, to register in the strongest and clearest of terms the offense that was taken — I believe rightly — by those comments yesterday, but now to work constructively,” Morrison told reporters in Melbourne.

“Australia and Turkey, the peoples of both countries, have a tremendous relationship, built up over generations.” Thursday’s developments came as New Zealand Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters was en route to Turkey to meet with Erdogan and seek clarification over his comments.

The 1915 Gallipoli campaign, marked by heavy casualties on both sides, was a disastrous defeat for the allies against the then Ottoman Empire. Although the battle later helped cement friendship among the three countries, it remains a highly sensitive subject in Australia and New Zealand.

Erdogan has also sparked outrage abroad by showing video excerpts at his campaign rallies of the footage broadcast by the Christchurch gunman, to denounce what he has called rising hatred and prejudice against Islam. Three Turkish citizens were among the dozens wounded in the attack.

It is not the first time Erdogan has sparked outrage abroad by making controversial statements about foreign countries, particularly during pre-election periods to stir up nationalist sentiment and consolidate his support base. He has sought to patch up relations after the elections.

Local elections are set to be held in Turkey on March 31. With the economy struggling, Erdogan’s party risks losing the capital, Ankara, to the opposition. Such an outcome would be a severe blow to the president, whose ruling Justice and Development Party and its predecessor have run the city for the past quarter century.

February 22, 2019

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Unlike many of his slain comrades, the touted new leader of the Islamic State group in the southern Philippines lacks the bravado, clan name or foreign training. Not much is known about Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, but the attacks attributed to him heralding his rise are distinctly savage: A deadly bombing, which authorities say was a suicide attack by a foreign militant couple, blasted through a packed Roman Catholic cathedral in the middle of a Mass.

The Jan. 27 attack, which killed 23 people and wounded about 100 others on southern Jolo Island, and another suspected suicide bombing on nearby Basilan Island last July that officials said he masterminded, put Sawadjaan in the crosshairs of the U.S.-led global campaign against terrorism. It also comes at a time when the Islamic State group’s last enclave in eastern Syria is near its imminent downfall, signaling an end to the territorial rule of the self-declared “caliphate” that once stretched across much of Syria and Iraq.

A recent U.S. Department of Defense report to Congress said without elaborating that it believed Sawadjaan was the “acting emir,” or leader, in the Philippines of the Islamic State group, also known by its acronym ISIS. It added that no actual leader is confirmed to have been designated by the main ISIS command in the Middle East as of late last year.

Philippine Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano, however, said intelligence indicated that Sawadjaan, a Jolo-based commander of the brutal Abu Sayyaf extremist group, was installed as ISIS chief in a ceremony last year. Three other extremist groups were recognized as ISIS allies, he said.

Founded in the early 1990s as an offshoot of the decadeslong Muslim separatist rebellion in the south, the Abu Sayyaf lost its commanders early in battle, sending it to a violent path of terrorism and criminality. It has been blacklisted, along with ISIS-linked local groups, as a terrorist organization by the United States.

Now in his 60s, Sawadjaan is a late bloomer in the terrorism underworld. His turn at the helm came after dozens of commanders, some initially aligned with the al-Qaida movement and later with ISIS, were killed or captured in decades of military offensives. The biggest battle loss came in 2017 when several foreign and local commanders were killed as troops quelled a five-month siege by hundreds of militants in southern Marawi city.

Among those killed was Isnilon Hapilon, a fierce Abu Sayyaf leader, who was the first ISIS-designated leader in the Philippines. “I think Sawadjaan rose in rank because of seniority and there were no other leaders left. Almost everyone had been wiped out,” said Ano, a former military chief who oversaw the Marawi offensives and now supervises the national police as interior secretary.

Largely confined to Jolo’s poverty-wracked mountain settlements all his life, Sawadjaan was not the well-connected and media-savvy strategist foreign groups would normally ally with to expand their reach. His rise shows how ISIS would latch on desperately to any militant who could provide a sanctuary and armed fighters as its last strongholds crumble in Syria, Ano said.

“For the ISIS to perpetuate their terror actions, they need a base, they need people. That’s the role of Sawadjaan,” Ano told The Associated Press in an interview. He estimated that Sawadjaan commands about 200 combatants and followers.

Sawadjaan was born to a peasant family in predominantly Muslim Jolo and only likely finished grade school. Poverty drove him to work as a lumberjack in the jungles off Patikul town, where he married a woman from Tanum, the mountain village where he would base his Abu Sayyaf faction years later, a military officer, who has closely monitored the Abu Sayyaf, told the AP on condition of anonymity because of the nature of his work.

As an elderly villager, he served as a local mosque preacher, earning him the religious sobriquet “hatib,” or sermon leader in Arabic, the officer said. Sawadjaan first took up arms as a member of the Moro National Liberation Front, the largest Muslim secessionist group in the south of the largely Roman Catholic country, which went on to sign a 1996 Muslim autonomy deal with the government, according to the officer.

His commander was Radulan Sahiron, the locally popular one-armed rebel who broke away from the MNLF in 1992. They joined the Abu Sayyaf, which had just been organized by a Libyan-educated local militant, said MNLF leader Yusop Jikiri.

Sawadjaan would later part ways with Sahiron, including over Sahiron’s refusal to accomodate foreign militants for fear they’re a magnet for military airstrikes, said Abu Jihad, a former militant who has met Sawadjaan and was captured by troops. Abu Jihad described Sawadjaan as a folksy village elderly, who constantly lugged an M-16 rifle in his hinterland community but was friendly to visitors.

When fellow militants kidnapped a visiting American Muslim convert, Jeffrey Schilling, for ransom in August 2000, Sawadjaan stayed in the background but helped gather bamboos that were used to build huts for the militants and their hostage, Abu Jihad said.

“He can discuss local issues but didn’t have any wisdom on jihad,” he told AP by phone, referring to the militants’ concept of holy war. “He’s very accommodating. He’s the type who will not be hard to sway.”

Sawadjaan collaborated with diverse outlaws, both Islamic extremists and brigands, Ano said. He harbored the foreign couple, believed by Philippine officials to be Indonesians, who detonated the bombs in the Jolo cathedral last month, as well as a militant believed to be an Arab known as Abu Kathir al-Maghribi, who died in the van blast that also killed 10 government militiamen and villagers in Basilan last year, Ano added.

A video obtained by police officials showed al-Maghribi in Sawadjaan’s camp last year before the foreign militant reportedly carried out the suicide attack in Basilan. The video was seen by The AP. His daughter married a Malaysian militant known as Amin Baco, who has ISIS connections. His younger brother, Asman, also belonged to the Abu Sayyaf, according to a confidential police profile of Sawadjaan.

Sawadjaan and his men would later be implicated in the kidnappings of a German couple, two Canadian men, Schilling and a Jordanian journalist, Baker Atyani. Most were ransomed off or escaped but the Canadian men were separately beheaded on video by one of Sawadjaan’s militant nephews, Ben Yadah, according to military and police officials.

In the more than a year of jungle captivity under Sawadjaan’s group starting in June 2012, Atyani got a deep insight into the Abu Sayyaf and the man who sheltered other militants from Indonesia and Malaysia and fostered banditry in the blurry underworld of Islamic extremism in the volatile south. Atyani is believed to have been freed in exchange for ransom.

“It’s all money-driven, it’s not an ideology,” Atyani said. “However, he has sympathy for those who are allegedly fighting for a cause.”

February 22, 2019

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The International Olympic Committee has revoked the Olympic qualification status of a 25-meter shooting event in New Delhi because Indian officials refused to grant entry visas to two Pakistani athletes and an official.

The IOC said Thursday it was informed on Monday that the Indian government authorities did not grant entry visas to the Pakistani delegation for the 25-meter rapid-fire pistol event at the ISSF World Cup, where two places at next year’s Tokyo Olympics were meant to be at stake.

The IOC said it only withdrew the Olympic qualification status from the competition in which the two Pakistani athletes were supposed to participate. There are 500 athletes from 61 countries who are already in India for other World Cup events.

“Since becoming aware of the issue, and in spite of intense last-minute joint efforts by the IOC, the ISSF (International Shooting Sport Federation) and the Indian NOC (National Olympic Committee), and discussions with the Indian government authorities, no solution has been found to allow the Pakistani delegation to enter India in time to compete,” the IOC said in a statement.

It did not say whether Pakistani athletes were entered in any other events at the competition. In a statement to the Press Trust of India news agency, Rajeev Mehta, the secretary general of the Indian Olympic Association, said Friday the IOA would approach the government again about the visas.

“It is a dangerous situation for all sport in the county,” Mehta was quoted as saying. “In addition to not being able to host events in India, there may be problems for our athletes to take part in international events.”

The IOC said the situation goes against the fundamental principles of the Olympic Charter to not discriminate against any athlete. The visa refusal comes amid escalated tensions between the two countries following last week’s deadly suicide bombing in Kashmir against Indian paramilitary troops. At least 40 Indian soldiers were killed in Thursday’s attack, which New Delhi blamed on Islamabad.

Since independence from Britain in 1947, Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, which is divided between the two but claimed by each in its entirety.

March 04, 2019

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — A key train service with neighboring India resumed and schools in Pakistani Kashmir opened Monday in another sign of easing tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals since a major escalation last week over the disputed Kashmir region.

Pakistan Railways spokesman Ejaz Shah said the train service, known as the Samjhauta Express, left the eastern city of Lahore for India’s border town of Atari, with some 180 passengers on board. Pakistan suspended the train service last week as tensions escalated following India’s airstrike on Tuesday inside Pakistan. India said it targeted militants behind a Feb. 14 suicide bombing in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 40 Indian troops.

Pakistan retaliated, shooting down a fighter jet the next day and detaining its pilot, who was returned to India two days later. Also Monday, schools in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir opened after seven days of closure amid the heightened tensions.

Raja Jaleel, head teacher at a secondary school in Chakothi, which is close to the Line of Control border in the disputed region, said classes resumed but attendance was thin. He lauded the courage of the students who attended, as many of the area’s parents are keeping their children home for their safety.

“We have started our day with prayers for peace,” said the head teacher, adding that the students also chanted slogans in support of the army. Schools were closed when Indian and Pakistani troops were trading fire across the Line of Control. At least eight civilians and two soldiers have been killed in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir since tensions soared following India’s airstrike last Tuesday.

The reopening of schools on the Pakistani side of Kashmir and the resumption of the train service amid the lull in the crossfire for the second consecutive day suggests that the two nuclear-armed rivals have heeded international calls to exercise restraint. But Pakistan hasn’t yet opened its airspace for flights to or from the east.

Senior civil aviation official Aamir Mahboob said that there was “no change yet in our aviation policy toward east but the west corridor is open for all flights.” After the suicide bombing on Feb 14 in the Pulwama district of Indian-controlled Kashmir, Indian jets crossed into Pakistani Kashmir and then into the Balakot section of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where they dropped bombs. India claimed its jets struck the militants behind the Pulwama attack. Pakistan denied that any such militant base existed in the area or that was hit by jets. Next day Pakistan shot down two Indian jets and detained a pilot who landed on the Pakistani side. He was handed back to India in a gesture of peace two days later.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since their independence from British rule in 1947. Both countries claim the territory in its entirety and have fought two of their three wars over it. The rivals struck a cease-fire deal in 2003 but regularly trade cross-border fire.

Mughal reported from Muzaffarabad, Pakistan. Associated Press writer Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.

February 28, 2019

MUZAFARABAD, Pakistan (AP) — India and Pakistan exchanged gunfire through the night into Thursday morning in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, a day after Islamabad said it shot down two Indian warplanes and captured a pilot.

There were no immediate reports of casualties, though jetfighters roared overhead through the mountainous region as villagers along the so-called Line of Control fled to safety. Meanwhile, members of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharitiya Janata Party called for more military action, suggesting the conflict still could worsen. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan had called for talks between the two nuclear-armed rivals in a televised address Wednesday, saying: “Considering the nature of the weapons that both of us have, can we afford any miscalculation?”

World powers have called on the nations to de-escalate the tensions gripping the contested region since a Feb. 14 suicide car bombing killed over 40 Indian paramilitary personnel. India responded with an airstrike Tuesday inside Pakistan, the first such raid since the two nations’ 1971 war over territory that later became Bangladesh.

The situation escalated with Wednesday’s aerial skirmish, which saw Pakistan say it shot down two Indian aircraft, one of which crashed in Pakistan-held part of Kashmir and the other in India-controlled Kashmir.

India acknowledged one of its MiG-21s, a Soviet-era fighter jet, was “lost” in skirmishes with Pakistan and that its pilot was “missing in action.” India also said it shot down a Pakistani warplane, something Islamabad denied.

Pakistan’s military later circulated a video of a man with a mustache who identified himself as the Indian pilot, sipping tea and responding to questions, mostly by saying, “You know I can’t answer that.” He appeared in good health as he was questioned about his hometown, his aircraft and his mission.

Both Indian and Pakistani officials reported small-arms fire and shelling along the Kashmir region into Thursday. Government buildings in Muzafarabad, the capital of the Pakistan-controlled section of Kashmir, were used to provide shelter to those who fled from border towns.

Indian army spokesman Lt. Col. Devender Anand described the intensity of the firing as “lesser” than previous nights. Authorities in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir closed all schools and educational institutions in the region and are urged parents to keep their children at home amid mounting tension with neighboring India. Pakistan’s airspace remained closed for a second day Thursday, snarling air traffic.

Meanwhile, India’s finance minister, Arun Jaitley, suggested at a news conference Wednesday that Indian special forces carry out secret missions to capture terrorist leaders in Pakistan, invoking the 2011 U.S. Navy Seal operation to kill al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

“I remember when U.S. Navy Seals went to Abbottabad to kill Osama bin Laden, then why can’t India?” he asked. “This used to be only an imagination, a wish, a frustration and disappointment. But it’s possible today.”

Just weeks before general elections are due in India, the head of Modi’s party in India’s Karnataka state, B.S. Yeddyurappa, said India’s pre-dawn airstrikes in Pakistan on Tuesday would help the party at the polls.

The violence Wednesday marked the most serious escalation of the long-simmering conflict since 1999, when Pakistan’s military sent a ground force into Indian-controlled Kashmir at Kargil. That year also saw an Indian fighter jet shoot down a Pakistani naval aircraft, killing all 16 on board.

Kashmir has been claimed by both India and Pakistan since almost immediately after their creation in 1947. The countries have fought three wars against each other, two directly dealing with the disputed region.

Hussain reported from Srinagar, India. Associated Press writers Ashok Sharma in New Delhi and Kathy Gannon and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.