Peshawar, the city of flowers, becomes epicenter of violence
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan’s Peshawar was once known as “the city of flowers,” surrounded by orchards of pear, quince and pomegranate trees. It was a trading city, situated at the gates of a key mountain valley connecting South and Central Asia.
But for the past four decades, it has borne the brunt of rising militancy in the region, fueled by the conflicts in neighboring Afghanistan and the geopolitical games of great powers.
On Tuesday, the city with a population of about 2 million was reeling after one of Pakistan’s most devastating militant attacks in years. A day earlier, a suicide bomber unleashed a blast in a mosque inside the city’s main police compound, killing at least 101 people and wounding at least 225, mostly police.
Analysts say the carnage is the legacy of decades of flawed policies by Pakistan and the United States.
“What you sow, so shall you reap,” said Abdullah Khan, a senior security analyst.
Peshawar was a peaceful place, he said, until the early 1980s when Pakistan’s then-dictator Ziaul Haq decided to become part of Washington's cold war with Moscow, joining the fight against the 1979 Soviet invasion of neighboring Afghanistan.
Peshawar — less than 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the Afghan border — became the center where the American CIA and Pakistani military helped train, arm and fund the Afghan mujahedeen fighting the Soviets. The city was flooded by weapons and fighters, many of them hard-line Islamic militants, as well as with hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees.
Arab militants were also drawn there by the fight against the Soviets, including the scion of a wealthy Saudi family, Osama bin Laden. It was in Peshawar that bin Laden founded al-Qaida in the late 1980s, joining forces with veteran Egyptian militant Ayman al-Zawahri.
The Soviets finally withdrew in defeat from Afghanistan in 1989. But the legacy of militancy and armed resistance that the U.S. and Pakistan fueled against them remained.
“After the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1980s, Americans abandoned mujahedeen, Americans even abandoned us, and since then we are paying a price for it,” said Mahmood Shah, a former Pakistani army brigadier and a senior security analyst.
The mujahedeen plunged Afghanistan into civil war in a bloody fight for power. Meanwhile, in Peshawar and another Pakistani city, Quetta, the Afghan Taliban began to organize, with backing from the Pakistani government. Eventually, the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, ruling until they were ousted by the 2001 American-led invasion following al-Qaida’s 9/11 attacks in the U.S.
During the nearly 20-year U.S. war against the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, militant groups blossomed in the tribal regions of Pakistan along the border and around Peshawar. Like the Taliban, they found root among the ethnic Pashtuns who make up a majority in the region and in the city.
Some groups were encouraged by the Pakistani intelligence agencies. But others turned their guns against the government, angered by heavy security crackdowns and by frequent U.S. airstrikes in the border region targeting al-Qaida and other militants.
Chief among the anti-government groups was the Pakistani Taliban, or Tahreek-e Taliban-Pakistani, or TTP. In the late 2000s and early 2010s, it waged a brutal campaign of violence around the country. Peshawar was scene of one of the bloodiest TTP attacks in 2014, on an army-run public school that killed nearly 150 people, most of them schoolboys.
Peshawar’s location has for centuries made it a key juncture between Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. One of the oldest cities in Asia, it stands at the entrance to the Khyber Pass, the main route between the two regions. That was a source of its prosperity in trade and put it on the path of armies going both directions, from Moghul emperors to British imperialists.
A heavy military offensive largely put down the TTP for several years and the government and the militants eventually reached an uneasy truce. Peshawar came under heavy security control, with checkpoints dotting the main roads, and a heavy presence of police and paramilitary troops.
TTP attacks, however, have grown once more since the Afghan Taliban returned to power in Kabul in August 2021 amid the U.S. and NATO withdrawal from that country. The Pakistani Taliban are distinct from but allied to the Afghan group, and Pakistani officials regularly accuse the Afghan Taliban of giving the TTP free rein to operate from Afghan territory.
On Wednesday, several police officers joined a peace march organized by the members of civil society groups in Peshawar, denouncing militant attacks and demanding peace in the country. Police said they made some arrest in connection with Monday's mosque bombing but did not provide details.
Ahead of Monday’s suicide bombing, Peshawar had seen increasing small-scale attacks targeting police. In another spillover from Afghanistan’s conflict, the regional affiliate of the Islamic State group attacked Peshawar’s main Shiite mosque in March 2022, killing more than 60 people.
Shah, the former officer, warned that more TTP attacks could follow and said that Pakistan needs to engage the Afghan Taliban and pressure them to either evict the TTP or ensure it doesn’t launch attacks from Afghan territory.
“If we are to have peace in Pakistan, we should talk to TTP from the position of strength with help from the Afghan Taliban,” he said. “This is the best and viable solution to avoid more violence.”___
Ahmed reported from Islamabad.
Reference: Associated Press: Story by By RIAZ KHAN and MUNIR AHMED
‘Cowardly’ robber used pistol to launch terrifying raids on south London businesses
A “cowardly” robber who launched a terrifying spree of armed robberies in south London has been jailed for 10 years.
Dorian Rankin, 42, used a handgun to force staff to hand over cash at a Betfred betting shop in Peckham and a Lloyds bank in Sydenham.
The spree started when Rankin grabbed a £10,000 gold necklace from staff at a pawnbroker in Walworth in November 2021.
He struck again in January 2022 when he went into a bookmakers in Rye Lane, Peckham armed with a handgun and threatened staff until they handed over cash.
Another month passed until Rankin burst into a high street bank in Sydenham and used the gun to get away with more money.
Detectives from the Met’s Flying Squad swooped on Rankin six months later and arrested him, later charging him with the three robberies.
Rankin of Thornton Heath was sentenced to 10 years in prison, on Thursday at Inner London Crown Court.
DC Craig Prout, of the Flying Squad, said: “Rankin is a coward who used a firearm to threaten and intimidate innocent members of staff. This conviction shows how seriously we treat such offending and those who choose to carry out criminal acts will be identified and convicted.”
Anyone with information about those who use weapons to rob or intimidate people can provide information anonymously to the independent charity Crimestoppers via 0800 555 111. They do not ask your name or trace your IP address.
ULEZ: The one borough where drivers won't be charged £12.50 on any roads if council blocks cameras
Transport for London won’t be able to fine drivers on any road in Harrow if the council refuses to let it install cameras for the ULEZ expansion. TfL owns and manages a network of roads across London, but none of them run through the borough.
The transport body would need to get permission from the council to install cameras on roads when the Ultra Low Emission Zone expands into Harrow in August. But in December 2022 the council said it “will not be cooperating” with the expansion, after raising serious concerns about the plan.
Drivers of the most polluting cars will face a £12.50 daily charge for driving in the Ultra Low Emission Zone. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, claims this will cut pollution in the capital.
In conjunction with Hillingdon, Bexley, and Bromley Council’s, Harrow’s leadership wrote a letter to Mr Khan objecting to the plans, citing the “adverse effects” it will have on residents, businesses, and visitors.
The letter said: “Until we have seen compelling evidence to the contrary, it remains our position that this scheme will not translate successfully to outer London and the negative impact to local households and economies will far outweigh the negligible air quality benefits.”
A Harrow Council spokesperson told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “The evidence that ULEZ will work is not there. We have suggested a more generous scrappage scheme for instance or better public transport, but this scheme fails to understand the difference between outer and inner London.”
Mr Khan said he was listening to outer Londoners during a recent visit to Enfield (January 30), where he announced a £110m vehicle scrappage scheme - which provides money to help Londoners scrap their non compliant vehicles.
He told MyLondon: "Outer London residents wanted more buses, so I announced a million kilometres of more buses - the biggest expansion in Outer London in history. Also, residents in Outer London, sole traders and small businesses were saying 'we'd like to keep our van, rather than scrapping it, we'd like to retrofit it,' so we listened to those residents, and now for the first time ever you can get £5,000 towards a retrofit scheme.
"Then, residents in Outer London said 'look we don't want to replace a polluting vehicle with a less polluting vehicle', we'd like to have bus usage or tram usage. So the new scheme gives you money towards scrapping your vehicle and two free bus and tram travel passes for an entire year. Those are just three examples of where we've listened to Outer Londoners.”
Harrow Council leader, Cllr Paul Osborn, has called the expansion plan “outrageous”, claiming the mayor’s “vanity project” ignored residents and businesses. He added: “This is the wrong solution at the wrong time. There is no evidence that it will improve air quality but it will hit the poorest households most.”
'Greedy' fraudsters murdered Potters Bar woman Louise Kam then dumped her body in bin
Two men have been jailed for murdering a 71-year-old businesswoman in a £4.6 million scam to plunder her life savings. Mohamed El Abboud, 28, of Gallants Farm Road, Barnet, and Kusai Al-Jundi, 25, of Wood End Road, Harrow, were jailed today (Wednesday, February 1) for Louise's murder.
Louise Kam, 71, from Potters Bar, disappeared in July 2021 and was later found dumped in a rubbish bin in Harrow. Kusai Al-Jundi, 25, of Harrow, London, and Romanian national Mohamed El-Abboud, 28, were found guilty of her murder and jailed for life for their actions.
Louise was strangled with a hairdryer cord and dumped in a wheelie bin after being lured to a three-bedroom house she owned in Barnet on July 26, 2021. The Met Police officers discovered a plot to con Louise into signing over two properties that she owned.
After her murder, in an attempt to cover their tracks, the pair sent messages to her family and friends and sold her car. Both men were given life sentences with a minimum term order of 35 years.
Detective Chief Inspector Brian Howie, from Specialist Crime, who led the investigation, said: “This was a despicable, calculated and callous crime of greed carried out by two young men against an elderly lady. Over a number of months, Al-Jundi attempted to plunder her life savings and take ownership of her properties. El-Abboud assisted his friend in bringing the plot to a fatal conclusion; Louise was strangled and her body dumped unceremoniously in a rubbish bin.
“Heartless attempts were then made to deceive her family and friends as to her whereabouts. As a result of a painstaking investigation, my team discovered evidence that conclusively linked both defendants to the murder of Louise. My thoughts and sympathies remain with the family and friends of Louise who, despite this verdict, may never get over the tragic circumstances surrounding her death.”
Catherine Gould, prosecutor with the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “This horrific crime is a tale of greed taken to extremes. Al-Jundi and El-Abboud selfishly and brutally ended Louise Kam’s life for their own ends.
“These defendants hatched a plan to kill Louise and profit from her death. Al-Jundi sent false text messages purporting to be from Louise to her family and friends claiming that she had left the country and even had the audacity to claim that she had defrauded him at a time when he knew full well that she had been killed.
“El-Abboud confessed to a friend that he had killed Louise but denied this at trial. We are grateful that the jury saw through his lies. The police worked quickly to establish that Louise had come to harm and to secure the evidence to present a strong and compelling case to put before the jury. Our thoughts remain with Louise’s family and friends and we sincerely hope that these guilty verdicts will bring them some comfort.”
Louise, from Potters Bar, was last seen by a family member near the Spires Shopping Centre in Barnet on July 26, 2021. Louise was reported missing to the Met Police the next day and an investigation was launched to locate her.
Louise’s black BMW was found by police on July 28 in Edgware, London, and her body was discovered on August 1, 2021 in a wheelie bin in Wood End Road, Harrow. Mohammed El-Abboud, a delivery driver, had been arrested on July 28 with Kusai Al-Jundi, a chef at a kebab restaurant, arrested the next day.
The Met Police officers confirmed that Kusai Al-Jundi planned to con his victim Louise into signing over two properties that she owned, one in Gallant’s Farm Road, Barnet, and the other in High Road, Willesden, convincing her he was wealthy and had financial support.
Louise saw this as an opportunity to sell the properties and as a new start for her and her family. They met her at the Gallant’s Farm Road address to finalise arrangements on July 26 and she was killed there that day.
The next day, Al-Jundi used Louise’s mobile phone to send messages to her friends and family to make it seem as if she was still alive, and that she had gone on holiday. However, those who knew her well saw through this lie and realised the sent messages could not have been written by her.
Later that day, El-Abboud sold Ms Kam’s BMW to an unsuspecting buyer. He purchased new clothes with the funds and posted a TikTok video of him dancing to music in the driveway of the Barnet home. Ms Kam’s body was placed in a bin and, on July 28, she was moved to Wood End Road in Harrow.
The Met Police's investigation linked the two men to the killing, after they discovered that the mobile phone messages had been sent using the wi-fi at Al-Jundi’s restaurant in Willesden and they found traces of both men’s DNA on a pair of gloves wrapped up with Louise’s body.
The Met Police watched thousands of hours of CCTV to track the defendants’ movements and link them to Louise, and interviewed dozens of potential witnesses. El-Abboud’s DNA was found on a hair dryer - as the electrical flex had been removed and used to strangle Louise, and her blood and fibres from her clothes were found on a jumper he was wearing.
Republicans remove Ilhan Omar from House foreign affairs committee
Democrats say removal from key committee motivated by ‘spite’ – follow all the latest news.
Ilhan Omar ousted from House foreign affairs committee
The House of Representatives has voted to oust Minnesota Democratic representative Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, the Washington Post reports.
The vote comes after the House approved Democratic assignments for the powerful foreign affairs committee which included Omar.
Once McCarthy learned of the assignments, he told reporters, “Oh, so now we can vote her off,” the Hill reports.
Republicans claim to have removed Omar due to her previous criticisms of Israel.
Republican representative Max Miller said in a statement that Omar “cannot be an objective decision-maker on the foreign affairs committee given her biases against Israel and against the Jewish people.”
Omar, herself the target of anti-Muslim bigotry since taking office, said last week that the decision to oust her was “purely partisan”.
She added that the move is “also a blow to the integrity of our democratic institutions and a threat to our national security”.
As transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg said on Thursday that he is “not planning on going anywhere.”
In an interview with Punchbowl News two years after his cabinet confirmation, Buttigieg said, “I don’t have any plans to do any job besides the one I’ve got” and that he has “the best job in the federal government.”
He told the outlet that his tenure with the the transportation department is “above his pay grade” and that he works at the “pleasure of the president for the time being.”
“I love this job and I feel like we’re right in the middle of the action,” he said. “I’m not planning on going anywhere because we’re smack in the middle of historic work,” he added.
Buttigieg heads a department that has distributed $159.70 billion across its 11 sub-components in fiscal year 2023.
Florida Republican senator Rick Scott said that he does not think that Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to remove him from the Senate Commerce Committee “made any sense.”
“I’m going to keep doing my job… I put out a plan. He completely opposed me putting out a plan,” Scott told CNN, referring to a plan he announced last year that would have subjected all “government bureaucrats” to a 12-year term limit, shut down the Department of Education, and slashed the federal workforce by 25% within five years, among other proposals.
Last year, Scott also unsuccessfully challenged McConnell for his Senate leadership position after he felt that McConnell did not do enough to lay out the GOP Senate governing agenda prior to Election Day, the Hill reports.
“He didn’t like that I opposed him because I believe we have to have ideas – fight over ideas. And so, he took [Utah Republican senator] Mike Lee and I off the committee,” Scott told CNN.
President Joe Biden called for cooperation and respect at the National Prayer Breakfast where he said that he and House speaker Kevin McCarthy will “treat each other with respect.”
“Let’s just sort of, kind of, join hands again a little bit. Let’s start treating each other with respect. That’s what Kevin and I are going to do,” said Biden, the Hill reports.
“Not a joke, we had a good meeting yesterday. I think we got to do it across the board. It doesn’t mean we’re going to agree and fight like hell. But let’s treat each other with respect,” he added.
Biden went on urge Americans to “look out for one another” amidst a slew of mass shootings, extreme weather conditions and frequent incidents of police brutality.
“In our politics and our lives, we too often see each other as opponents and not competitors. We see each other as enemies, not neighbors. And as tough as these times have been, if we look closer, we see the strength, the determination that has long defined America,” he said.
Top economic adviser to exit White House
President Joe Biden has confirmed the departure of his top economic adviser Brian Deese from the White House.
In a statement on Thursday, Biden announced that Deese will be stepping down from his role as director of the National Economic Council in the coming days.
“For the past two years, I have relied on Brian Deese to help me do just that. Brian has a unique ability to translate complex policy challenges into concrete actions that improve the lives of American people. He has helped steer my economic vision into reality, and managed the transition of our historic economic recovery to steady and stable growth,” Biden said.
He went on to cite Deese’s critical role in the passage of various agendas including the American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, as well as the CHIPS and Science Act.
“I am grateful to his wife Kara and his children Adeline and Clark for letting us borrow Brian. I know well what it must have been like to say goodbye to him for the regular long commute to Washington, and I know they’re excited to welcome him home,” he added.
Former House speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that she will endorse Democratic representative Adam Schiff for California senate if senator Diana Feinstein decides to not run again.
In a statement released by Pelosi and reported by Politico, Pelosi wrote:
“If Senator Feinstein decides to seek re-election, she has my whole-hearted support. If she decides not to run, I will be supporting House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, who knows well the nexus between a strong Democracy and a strong economy,” she said.
“In his service in the House, he has focused on strengthening our Democracy with justice and on building an economy that works for all,” she added.
Pelosi’s announcement comes a week after Adam Schiff announced the launch of his campaign for California senate.
Ahead of the meeting with president Joe Biden later today, the Congressional Black Caucus released a statement regarding its request to meet Biden following the death of Tyre Nichols who died after being brutally beaten by five Memphis police officers last month.
On behalf of CBC members, CBC chairman and Democratic Nevada representative Steven Horsford wrote:
“The Congressional Black Caucus takes its role to advocate for the safety and protection of the people in our communities very seriously.
To that end, CBC is requesting a meeting with the President this week to push for negotiations on much needed national reforms to our justice system - specifically, the actions and conduct of our law enforcement…
We are calling on our colleagues in the House and Senate to jumpstart negotiations now and work with us to address the public health epidemic of police violence that disproportionately affects many of our communities,” it added.
Reference: The Guardian; Story by Maya Yang
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