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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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)
Canada joins diplomatic boycott of Beijing Games – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, December 8, 2021 12:43PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 8, 2021 4:27PM EST
OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada will join a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing next year, citing extensive human rights abuses by the Communist regime in the host country.
The decision comes two days after the United States announced it would not send government officials to the Olympics over concerns about China’s human rights record, and particularly allegations of genocide against the Muslim Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang province.
Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have all since followed suit.
Trudeau said Canada too is “extremely concerned by the repeated human rights violations by the Chinese government.”
“I don’t think the decision by Canada or by many other countries to choose to not send a diplomatic representation to the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics is going to come as a surprise to China,” he said Wednesday.
“We have been very clear over the past many years of our deep concerns around human rights violations and this is a continuation of us expressing our deep concerns for human rights violations.”
A diplomatic boycott means Canadian athletes can and will still compete but no government officials will attend, including Pascale St-Onge, the new minister of sport.
While it has been rare in recent years for the prime minister to attend an Olympics, Canada normally sends multiple government representatives including cabinet ministers and often the governor general.
Last summer, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough represented the Canadian government at the delayed Tokyo Olympics. In 2018 in Pyeongchang, Trudeau requested then-governor general Julie Payette attend for Canada. Kirsty Duncan, then the sport minister, attended both the Olympics and Paralympics along with several staff members.
Former governor general David Johnston attended for Canada at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and at the 2012 Summer Games in London.
There were some calls for countries to stage a boycott of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing over human rights concerns, or at least to refuse to attend the opening ceremonies. But former prime minister Stephen Harper rejected that idea and sent his foreign affairs minister, David Emerson, to attend the games, including the opening ceremonies.
China denies allegations of human rights abuses and is accusing the United States of upending the political neutrality of sport. Chinese diplomats slammed the decisions by the U.S. and Australia, accusing countries of using the Olympics as a pawn, and adding several times that “nobody cares” whether diplomats attend the Games.
Mac Ross, a kinesiology professor at Western University’s International Centre for Olympic Studies, said Canada is sending a message to China and the International Olympic Committee that it “will not support the hosting of Olympic Games against the backdrop of widespread human rights violations.”
Ross also said China’s accusation that the boycotts politicize the Olympics ignores how many times China itself boycotted the Games.
“The People’s Republic of China has staged full boycotts of the Olympics multiple times, on purely political grounds,” Ross said. “Why are boycotts suddenly unacceptable? The answer is simple: they place the regime’s human rights record front and centre.”
In a written statement, Canadian Olympic Committee CEO David Shoemaker and Canadian Paralympic Committee CEO Karen O’Neill said they respect the decision made by the government.
“The Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee remain concerned about the issues in China but understand the Games will create an important platform to draw attention to them,” they said. “History has shown that athlete boycotts only hurt athletes without creating meaningful change.”
The Chinese Embassy in Canada has not yet reacted to Canada’s decision, but tweeted ahead of the announcement that “the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are about athletic excellence and global unity. Stop using it as a platform for grandstanding and division.”
China threatened to take “countermeasures” against the U.S. but has not specified what that means.
Trudeau said Wednesday concerns about arbitrary detention of any foreign nationals by the Chinese government continues to be a concern but that Canada will do everything necessary to ensure the safety of Canadian athletes competing in Beijing.
“We know that our athletes need to have one thing in mind that is representing their countries to the best of their ability and winning that gold medal for Canada,” he said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said the RCMP are always involved in ensuring security for Canada’s athletes and that Canada’s diplomatic missions in China will also be helping ensure the athletes have everything they need.
Canada’s diplomatic relationship with China is still strained following nearly three years of tension over China’s detention of two Canadians. Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were finally released from Chinese prison in September.
Canada always alleged they were detained in retaliation for its decision to arrest Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the United States, which wanted her extradited there to face fraud charges.
The two Michaels, as Kovrig and Spavor came to be called, were freed the same day Meng struck a plea deal with the U.S. and was released from Canada.
Opposition Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said he supports a diplomatic boycott but accused Trudeau of lagging behind Canada’s allies in making the decision.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2021.
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Wednesday – CBC News
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced tighter restrictions Wednesday to stem the spread of the omicron variant, urging people in England to again work from home and mandating COVID-19 passes for entrance into nightclubs and large events.
Johnson said it was time to impose stricter measures to prevent a spike of hospitalizations and deaths as the new coronavirus variant spreads rapidly in the community.
“It has become increasingly clear that omicron is growing much faster than the previous delta variant and is spreading rapidly all around the world,” he said in a news conference. “Most worryingly, there is evidence that the doubling time of omicron could currently be between two and three days.”
Johnson said that 568 cases of the omicron variant have been confirmed across the U.K., and “the true number is certain to be much higher.”
He said beginning next Monday, people should work from home if possible. Starting on Friday, the legal requirement to wear a face mask will be widened to most indoor public places in England, including cinemas. Next week, having a COVID-19 pass showing that a person has had both vaccine doses will be mandatory to enter nightclubs and places with large crowds.
Overall, the British government reported another 51,342 confirmed daily cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday, with 161 more people dying.
The announcement came as Johnson and his government faced increasing pressure to explain reports that Downing Street staff enjoyed a Christmas party that breached the country’s coronavirus rules last year, when people were banned from holding most social gatherings. Johnson on Wednesday ordered an inquiry and said he was “furious” about the situation.
The revelations have angered many in Britain, with critics saying they heavily undermine the authority of Johnson’s Conservative government in imposing virus restrictions.
-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 2:55 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
What’s happening around the world
As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 267.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University, which maintains an online database of global cases. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.2 million.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned Wednesday that governments need to reassess national responses to COVID-19 and speed up vaccination programs to tackle the omicron variant, though it is too early to say how well existing shots will protect against it.
The variant’s global spread suggests it could have a major impact on the pandemic, and the time to contain it is now before more omicron patients are hospitalized, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“We call on all countries to increase surveillance, testing and sequencing,” he told a media briefing. “Any complacency now will cost lives.”
In Europe, France’s Ile-de-France region — with the capital Paris at its centre — said all hospitals are activating an emergency plan due to the strained COVID-19 situation. The plan includes stepping up the number of ICU beds and, if necessary, rescheduling treatments to free up capacities.
Meanwhile, European Union health ministers discussed measures to try to halt the spread of the omicron variant, with the Netherlands calling for negative tests for incoming travellers from outside the bloc and France urging tests even for those arriving from EU states.
Poland and several other countries in central and eastern Europe are battling their latest surges of coronavirus cases and deaths while continuing to record much lower vaccination rates than in western Europe.
In Russia, more than 1,200 people with COVID-19 died every day throughout most of November and for several days in December, and the daily death toll remains over 1,100. Ukraine, which is recording hundreds of virus deaths a day, is emerging from its deadliest period of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the mortality rate in Poland — while lower than it was in the spring — recently hit more than 500 deaths per day and still has not peaked. Intensive care units are full, and doctors report that more children require hospitalization, including some who went through COVID-19 without symptoms but then suffered strokes.
The situation has created a dilemma for Poland’s government, which has urged citizens to get vaccinated but clearly worries about alienating voters who oppose vaccine mandates or any restrictions on economic life.
In the Americas, the number of Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 reached 200 million Wednesday amid a dispiriting holiday-season spike in cases and hospitalizations that has hit even New England, one of the most highly inoculated corners of the country.
Brazil will require that unvaccinated travellers entering the country go on a five-day quarantine followed by a COVID-19 test, after its president said he opposed the use of a vaccine passport.
In Africa, South Africa reported nearly 20,000 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, a record since the omicron variant was detected, and 36 new COVID-related deaths. It was not immediately clear how many of the infections were caused by omicron, given only a fraction of samples are sequenced, but experts believe it’s driving South Africa’s fourth wave of infections.
A weekly epidemiological report published Tuesday by WHO said that in the Middle East, the most cases reported last week were in:
- Jordan, with 32,108 reported cases.
- Iran, with 26,255 reported cases.
- Lebanon, with 10,406 reported cases.
In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea will consider expanding home treatment of COVID-19 patients, as both new daily infections and severe cases hit record highs, putting hospital capacity under strain.
-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 4:05 p.m. ET
U.S. Senator asks FTC to probe Facebook’s ad practices
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell on Wednesday asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Meta Platforms’ Facebook misled its advertising customers and the public about the reach of its advertisements, according to a letter to FTC Chair Lina Khan.
“I urge the FTC to immediately commence an investigation into Facebook’s representations with respect to brand safety, Potential Reach, and similar metrics with respect to its advertising business and, if that investigation reveals that the company has in fact violated the law, to pursue all available sanctions as appropriate,” the letter said.
(Reporting by Chris Sanders; editing by Diane Craft)
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