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Islamic State violence dents Taliban claims of safer Afghanistan

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November 9, 2021

By James Mackenzie

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Last month, the family of Mawlavi Ezzatullah, a member of Afghanistan’s Hizb-e Islami party, received a WhatsApp message from his phone: “We have slaughtered your Mawlavi Ezzat, come and collect his body.”

Ezzatullah’s killing, in the eastern province of Nangarhar, was one of a steady stream of assassinations and bombings that have undermined Taliban claims that they have brought greater security to Afghanistan after 40 years of war.

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Victims have ranged from former security officials from the ousted government to journalists, civil society activists, mullahs, Taliban fighters and apparently random targets like Ezzatullah, whose family said he had no enemies they knew of.

The Taliban have said their victory has brought stability to Afghanistan, where thousands of people were killed in fighting between the group and Western-backed forces between 2001 and 2021 before the hardline Islamists emerged victorious.

But on just one day last week, pictures from Jalalabad – the provincial capital of Nangarhar – appeared online showing two bodies swinging from a rope. Residents also reported a mullah’s murder and video footage was circulated of a group of gunmen firing into a car, apparently killing its occupants, one of whom was identified by local journalists as a Taliban official.

Reuters was unable to verify the images and footage independently.

On Sunday, according to locals, three bodies were brought into a hospital in Jalalabad after a roadside bomb explosion that apparently targeted Taliban fighters in a pickup truck.

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Later that day, gunmen shot a former Afghan army soldier in front of his house, killing him and two friends standing nearby.

The Taliban have downplayed such incidents, saying that after decades of war, it will take time for the country to be completely pacified.

“There are 34 provinces in the country and in a week, 20 cases will be prevented for every one that takes place,” said spokesman Bilal Karimi. “We have had 20 years of revolution and invasion and the level of these incidents will go down.”

Some former soldiers and intelligence officers from the ousted government blame members of the Taliban for targeting them since taking over. The group has promised there would be no reprisals, but accepts rogue fighters may have acted alone.

Many targeted killings remain unclaimed and some may be the result of local vendettas.

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But others look the result of increasingly open conflict between the Taliban and a local affiliate of Islamic State, a development which the new U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan, Tom West, said on Monday was causing concern https://www.reuters.com/world/us-says-worried-about-increase-attacks-by-isis-k-afghanistan-2021-11-08 in Washington.

The militant jihadi group has claimed some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan in recent months in which hundreds of people have been killed, mainly in big cities.

“They are trying to undermine and discredit the Taliban Emirate. The Emirate promised security and they’re trying to show they can’t deliver it,” said Antonio Giustozzi, a specialist in jihadi groups from the Royal United Services Institute in London.

He said Islamic State, which he estimated to have around 4,000 fighters, had been carrying out a campaign of targeted killings since around the summer of 2020 and had continued since the Taliban victory in August on a “roughly comparable scale”.

‘BIDEN HIRELINGS’

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For many going about their business, the violence feels particularly menacing.

“I have never been as terrified as I am now,” said a university professor in Nangarhar who has also worked as a journalist and who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted. He described events in Nangarhar as “total chaos.”

The violence has fuelled fears that Afghanistan could collapse into anarchy and even return to a new phase of civil war, creating a haven for militant groups to launch attacks in neighbouring countries and the West.

“This is the scenario that has everyone worried,” said one Western official with long experience of the region.

Islamic State, which first appeared in Afghanistan in late 2014 and adopted the title Islamic State Khorasan after an ancient name for the region, has been trying to recover from a bruising series of defeats in 2018 and 2019.

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The group has claimed a series of strikes against Shi’ite mosques and other targets since the Taliban’s victory in August, most recently on the main military hospital in Kabul which killed at least 25 people.

Less commonly reported are frequent, smaller atrocities which have been taking place not only in Nangarhar, long a stronghold of Islamic State.

Areas affected include Ghazni in central Afghanistan, Herat in the west, Balkh in the north, and Paktia, Paktika and Khost in the southeast.

“The Taliban militia are lost in panic, they do not know how to conceal their shame,” an Islamic State video posted on the group’s Telegram channel on Sunday said, accusing the Taliban of being “Biden hirelings”.

As an insurgency the Taliban proved an effective and cohesive fighting force. Keeping the peace in a country in crisis presents fresh challenges, including uniting different factions, values and norms within the movement.

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Giustozzi, who wrote a book on Islamic State in Afghanistan, said the group, which had retreated into remote strongholds in the east and northeast of the country, was trying to hit the Taliban while the group is still grappling with the transition from insurgency to government.

“They know that if they allow the Taliban Emirate to consolidate, next spring the Taliban will move to destroy them,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Islamabad newsroom; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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Russian court remands mine director, inspectors in custody after deadly accident

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A court in Siberia on Saturday remanded five people in custody for two months to face charges related to a mining accident that killed more than 50 people this week.

Three managers of the Listvyazhnaya mine, including its director, were ordered to remain in custody until late January for flouting industrial safety standards, a spokesperson for the regional prosecutor’s office said.

The court also ordered two safety inspectors, who had issued a certificate for the mine this month but had not actually checked the facility, to remain in custody until late January.

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The accident, which regional authorities say was likely caused by a methane explosion, claimed the lives of 51 people, including five rescuers who were sent to bring out dozens of men stuck deep underground.

The health ministry said on Saturday that 60 people were being treated in hospital for injuries sustained at the mine, TASS news agency reported.

The accident at the mine, located some 3,500 km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow in the Kemerovo region, was Russia’s worst since 2010 when explosions killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same region.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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Russia spy chief says Ukraine invasion plan ‘malicious’ U.S. propaganda

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine and suggestions to the contrary are malicious U.S. propaganda, Moscow’s foreign intelligence chief said on Saturday.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have raised the alarm in recent weeks over what they say are unusual Russian troop movements near the border with Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow may be poised to launch an attack.

Russia has repeatedly said it is free to move its troops on its own territory and that such movements should not be a cause for concern.

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“I need to reassure everyone. Nothing like this is going to happen,” Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, said in an interview broadcast on state television, referring to comments on Russia’s alleged invasion plans.

“Everything that is happening around this topic right now is of course malicious propaganda by the U.S. State Department.”

Naryshkin spoke a day after the State Department’s top U.S. diplomat for European affairs said all options were on the table in how to respond to Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine’s border and that NATO would decide on the next move after consultations next week.

While U.S. officials have voiced concerns about a possible Russian attack on Ukraine, Moscow has accused Washington, Kyiv and NATO of provocative and irresponsible behaviour near its borders.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Spanish police march in Madrid to protest against ‘Gag Law’ reform

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November 27, 2021

By Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo

MADRID (Reuters) – Thousands of Spanish police officers marched through Madrid on Saturday to protest against a proposed reform of a security law which they say will hamper their ability to do their work.

Politicians from Spain’s three main conservative parties joined police officers in the protest against proposed changes to the 2015 Citizens Security Law, which critics say violates the right to protest and limits free expression.

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Dubbed the “Gag Law” by those who oppose it, the legislation allows authorities to fine media organisations for distributing unauthorised images of police, strictly limits demonstrations and imposes heavy fines for offenders.

Spain’s leftist government has proposed reforms including no longer classifying the taking of photographs or making of recordings of police at demonstrations as a serious offence.

Under the changes, police will also have to use less harmful materials at protests after a number of people were seriously injured by rubber bullets fired by officers.

The time that suspects who are arrested at protests can be held in custody will be cut from six hours to two and fines will be proportional to how much offenders earn.

“They should either leave the current law as it is or make it better for the police and for the citizens,” Civil Guard officer Vanessa Gonzalez told Reuters.

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Ivan Espinosa de los Monteros, of the far-right Vox party, said: “There is strong opposition against (the reform) of this law. It is against our police and we will not let it happen.”

However, Isa Serra, spokeswoman for the far-left Unidas Podemos party, said at a rally in Cantabria in northern Spain that the law had done a “lot of damage to Spanish democracy”.

Organisers said 150,000 people took part in the Madrid demonstration but the government put the figure at 20,000.

(Reporting by Graham Keeley, Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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