Issue XCVI

21 OCT 2016



Minister: Death of Pakistan Taliban leader won't delay peace talks


(CNN) -- The death of Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud will not delay peace talks between Pakistan's government and the militant group, Information Minister Pervez Rasheed said Saturday.
Mehsud -- who had a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head for his alleged involvement in a deadly 2009 attack on a U.S. military base in Afghanistan -- was killed in a drone strike in northwestern Pakistan on Friday, senior U.S. and Pakistani officials told CNN.
Rasheed condemned the use of drones in Pakistan. "Drones are used for killing but they will not let the peace process be killed with it," the minister told reporters.

Mehsud was buried, though the body was burned beyond recognition, Taliban sources said. The organization was scheduled to meet Saturday to pick a new leader, the sources said. 

No official announcement has been made on who will be the new chief for the Pakistan Taliban. But a number of names have emerged, as different factions and individuals jockey for position.
Saleem Mehsud, a journalist who is close to the Mehsuds and familiar with the Pakistan Taliban, told CNN on Saturday that the central shura, or council, of the Pakistan Taliban has approved Sheheryar Mehsud as its new chief.
Sheheryar Mehsud is from the Jangara area of South Waziristan and belongs to the Shabikheil sub-tribe within the larger Mehsud tribe, he said. That's the same sub-tribe that Baitullah Mehsud, who led the Pakistan Taliban before Hakimullah Mehsud, belonged to.
Sheheryar Mehsud, who's 33 years old, has been involved in fighting in Kashmir and Afghanistan, he said.
There are fears the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud may spark a surge in violence.
This is in part because the attack in Afghanistan in 2009 -- in which seven U.S. citizens died -- was launched in response to the strike that killed Baitullah Mehsud four months earlier.
Security around Peshawar, the capital city of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in northwest Pakistan, is being beefed up as police and security brace for reprisal attacks, Home Secretary Akhtar Ali Shah said.
"Since this drone strike, we are waiting for a reaction," he said. "We know the reaction will be strong. We have strengthened security in Peshawar, especially at the entry points in to the city. We have extra security on patrol with sniffer dogs."
Taliban stronghold
Three other people were killed in Friday's strike, Pakistani intelligence sources and tribal officials said.
They described the...

Hakimullah Mehsud drone strike: 'Death of peace efforts'


Pakistan's interior minister has said the death of Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud has destroyed the country's nascent peace process.

"This is not just the killing of one person, it's the death of all peace efforts," Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said.

Pakistan's security forces have been put on high alert following the US drone strike on Friday.

It came a day before a government delegation had been due to fly to North Waziristan to meet Mehsud.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had pledged to talk with the Taliban to try to end its campaign of violence, which has left thousands dead in bombings and shootings across the country.

Militants have in the past carried out retaliatory attacks after the killings of other Taliban commanders.

Mehsud was killed along with four other people - including two of his bodyguards - when four missiles struck their vehicle in the north-western region of North Waziristan, a senior Taliban official told the BBC.

Pakistani media say Mehsud's funeral has taken place at an unknown location in the tribal area of North Waziristan.

The Taliban's ruling council met on Saturday to choose a new leader. Unconfirmed reports say regional commander Khan Said Sajna has been elected to the top job.

As well as Mehsud, the previous Pakistan Taliban leader was killed in a drone strike, in 2009.

Caitlin Hayden, a spokesperson for the US president's National Security Council, would not comment on any US government involvement or confirm the death but said it would be a serious loss for the group.

The Pakistan government has strongly condemned the drone attack as a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty.

Pakistani security services are on high alert following Hakimullah Mehsud's death in a US drone attack.

Mehsud and other militants were secretly buried early on Saturday, while a Taliban spokesman spoke of exacting a bloody revenge for the killing.


China blames militant group for deadly SUV attack near Tiananmen Square


BEIJING -- China's top security official blamed a little-known militant group for this week's suicide car crash that killed five people in the heart of the capital, renewing Beijing's disputed claim that the country faces a significant, organized terrorist threat.

Meng Jianzhu offered no details of the allegations against the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, and it isn't clear whether the group has the ability to orchestrate terror strikes. Beijing says the movement is dedicated to the violent overthrow of Chinese rule in the northwestern region of Xinjiang that is home to the country's Turkic Muslim Uighur minority.

Police said they found flags imprinted with religious slogans among items in the SUV used in the attack and at the temporary lodgings of five arrested suspects.

China's government has said previous attacks in Xinjiang were inspired by jihadi propaganda and has linked several of them directly to the ETIM.

Meng named the group in an interview with Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television during a visit to the capital of Uzbekistan to attend a regional security summit.

"Behind the instigation is the terrorist group East Turkestan Islamic Movement entrenched in central and west Asian regions," Meng, chief of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the ruling Communist Party, said in the interview.

No one has claimed responsibility for Monday's attack, in which an SUV plowed through crowds toward Tiananmen Gate where it burst into flames, killing three in the car and two tourists, including a Filipino woman, and injuring dozens.

Security has been strengthened in Xinjiang, and Uighurs in Beijing have been subjected to increased police checks.

Beijing police said the perpetrators were a man with a Uighur name, his wife and his mother. Those arrested on suspicion of conspiring in the strike -- the city's first in recent history were also identified with typically Uighur names.

The 9 million-strong Uighurs have close cultural and linguistic ties to Turkic peoples of Central Asia and traditionally follow a moderate version of Sunni Islam. Many complain of Chinese cultural and religious restrictions and discrimination by the country's ethnic Han majority.

The United States placed the ETIM on a terrorist watch list following the Sept. 11 attacks, but quietly removed it amid doubts that it existed in any organized manner. It is still listed as a terrorist group by the United Nations and a handful of...

The Tiananmen Square Car Crash: Terrorism Or Accident?


Beijing was shocked Monday when an SUV slammed into a crowd of tourists in front of the Forbidden City, killing two tourists and injuring 40 bystanders. The incident is remarkable because it happened in front of one of Beijing’s most famous tourist sites, a heavily guarded area which is just a few blocks west of Zhongnanhai, the headquarters of China’s Communist Party.

Chinese police have called the incident a violent terrorist attack, and they put the blame on Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim group from Xinjiang, in China’s northwest, who have chafed under Chinese rule.

As usual with such incidents, the official statements have raised more questions than they have answered, and the handling of this threatens to further exasperate tensions in China. It has also undermined the credibility of the Chinese government.

Critics questioned the terrorist claim, arguing that there was little hard evidence and that Beijing has long exaggerated the threat of terrorism among Uyghurs in an attempt to demonize them and justify the government’s harsh rule of Xinjiang.

The World Uyghur Congress, based in WashingtonDC, issued a statement Tuesday expressing “profound sadness” over the loss of life, but also voicing concern over the lack of state transparency and attempts to muzzle reporting, which it said were “an indication the public will never hear a free and fair account” of the event.”

The statement also expressed concerns that the Chinese would use the incident as an excuse to justify a further tightening in Xinjiang, which is already under extreme police and military control.

“Today, I fear for the future of East Turkestan and the Uyghur people more than I ever have,” said World Uyghur Congress president Rebiya Kadeer, using the term for the area used by Uyghurs who oppose Chinese rule. She added that she worried the Chinese would take advantage of the incident to “further impose repressive measures on the Uyghur people.”

Critics also questioned the limited information provided by the police. For one, the incident did not have the markings of a sophisticated “carefully planned, organized and premeditated” terrorist act, as police have stated.

Police report that the driver, and his wife and mother were killed when the car burst into flames. Why would he have involved his wife and mother in an attack that only required one person to carry out?

There have been rumors that...


Syria Is Said to Destroy All Chemical Arms Production Sites



LONDON — The international chemical weapons watchdog said on Thursday that Syria had met a key deadline for “the functional destruction” of all the chemical weapons production and mixing facilities declared to inspectors, “rendering them inoperable” under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague said in a statement that a joint team of its inspectors and United Nations officials had visited 21 of the 23 chemical sites Syria declared to them. While the remaining two sites were too hazardous to visit because of the country’s continuing civil war, the chemical-making equipment there had already been moved to other sites which the inspectors could visit.

“The Joint O.P.C.W.-U.N. mission has inspected 21 of the 23 sites declared by Syria, and 39 of the 41 facilities located at those sites,'’ the statement said. “The two remaining sites were not visited due to safety and security concerns. But Syria declared those sites as abandoned and that the chemical weapons program items they contained were moved to other declared sites, which were inspected.”

“The joint mission is now satisfied that it has verified — and seen destroyed — all of Syria’s declared critical production and mixing/filling equipment,” it added.

“Given the progress made,” it said, “no further inspection activities are currently planned.”

Syria had “met the deadline” set by the O.P.C.W. Executive Council which had urged the destruction “as soon as possible and in any case not later than 1 November 2013” of production and mixing and filling equipment.

Syria agreed to the destruction of its chemical arsenal to avert threatened American and French military strikes following a poison gas attack in a suburb of Damascus on Aug. 21 that killed hundreds of people.

The United States and its allies backing Syria’s rebels accused forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of responsibility for the attack. But Mr. Assad blamed the rebels themselves.

The timetable foresees Syria destroying its stockpiles of chemical weapons by mid-2014.

The development on Thursday was depicted as a significant milestone, since it presumably means that Syria could no longer produce chemical weapons. Mr. Assad still controls weapons and...

Syria weapons inspectors miss deadline for visiting all declared sites


International inspectors overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile have missed an early deadline in a brutally tight schedule after security concerns prevented them from visiting two sites linked to Damascus' chemical program.

The chief of the global chemical weapons watchdog disclosed for the first time in a report obtained by The Associated Press that Syria has declared 41 facilities at 23 chemical sites where it stored approximately 1,300 tons of precursors and agents, and over 1,200 unfilled munitions to deliver them.

Ahmet Uzumcu said in his first report to the U.N. Security Council that inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had corroborated the information provided by Syria at 37 of the 41 facilities.

But the OPCW said inspectors were only able to visit 21 of the 23 sites because of security risks -- which means the tight timeline for visiting all declared sites by Oct. 27 was missed.

While there are no consequences for missing the deadline, the group's failure to meet it underscores the ambitious timeline as well as the risks its inspectors face in carrying out their mission in the middle of Syria's civil war.

The OPCW did not say who was responsible for the security problems, but Uzumcu has said in the past that temporary cease-fires may have to be negotiated between rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad to reach some sites.

The two sites appear to be in rebel-held or contested areas. At least one location is believed to be the town of al-Safira, which experts say is home to a production facility as well as storage sites. It has been engulfed by fighting for months, and many rebels in the area are from Al Qaeda-linked groups.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a seven-page letter to the Security Council, also obtained by AP, that the joint OPCW-U.N. mission is constantly reviewing security at the two locations "with the intention of visiting them as soon as conditions permit."

The mission faces a string of target dates for specific tasks as it aims to achieve the overall goal of ridding Syria of its chemical stockpile by mid-2014. The next target is Nov. 1 when Syria is to complete the "functional destruction" of all equipment to produce chemical weapons, aimed at ensuring that Syria can no longer make new chemical weapons.

The U.N. chief said he expects the destruction to be completed on time, "with the...