Army chief calls corps commanders meeting

Army chief Raheel Sharif.

ISLAMABAD: Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif has summoned a meeting of the corps commanders for Sunday evening, a day after the political impasse in Islamabad took the form of a full blown clash between protesters and law enforcement personnel.

Earlier, the meeting was scheduled to be held on Monday morning but its time was changed after the army chief held some consultations with the senior military commanders.

An ISPR spokesman had earlier said that the meeting which is to be chaired by General Raheel will discuss matters relating to the internal security situation.

Highly-placed sources told Daily Siatar Sindh  that the conference would also evolve its strategy to end the prevailing impasse.

The situation in Islamabad took on critical proportions after the clashes began late on Saturday and led to at least seven reported deaths and two hundred injuries.

Tomorrow’s meeting of the army commanders can have a serious bearing on the prevailing scenario, especially with the fact that the military had engaged in ‘mediating’ the crisis between the government and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).

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Islamabad standoff: police register case against Sikandar

ISLAMABAD: Islamabad police registered a case against Muhammad Sikandar at Kohsar police station Friday under Section 6 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), Daily Sitara reported.

Moreover, Sikandar’s wife Kanwal was also named in the FIR.

Earlier, Sikandar opened fire in the heavily policed heart of Islamabad after slipping past the capital’s many checkpoints. He was later shot and seriously wounded by police during a dramatic standoff.

The armed man, who was with his wife and children in a car as he issued demands for the imposition of Islamic law, was said by doctors to be fighting for his life after the five-hour incident.

Sikandar started firing into the air in the central Jinnah Avenue neighbourhood — less than a kilometre from the presidency and parliament buildings — after being stopped for a traffic violation on Thursday afternoon, police said, according to the report published by AFP.

An AFP photographer at the scene said the man was holding a submachine gun and a Kalashnikov.

The stand-off came to a head when politician Zamarud Khan, a leader of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), who was acting as a negotiator, jumped on Sikandar and tried to disarm him.

Sikandar broke free and fired at Khan, who was not injured, live footage on Geo TV showed. The woman and children were standing nearby.

Police and paramilitary forces shot Sikandar, who fell to the ground and was carried away by police and paramilitary officers.

Television footage showed the young boy trying to rush over to his father after he was shot, but Khan held him back.

Islamabad police chief Sikander Hayat confirmed that the children had not been injured.

“I was sitting at home and watching this whole drama on TV,” Khan, who is being hailed a hero by local media, told a private news channel.

“I came out with a commitment that I will catch this guy, even if it takes my life.”

Hayat said that Sikandar had made several demands during the stand-off, including the resignation of the government and the enforcement of Islamic Sharia law in Pakistan.

“He was also demanding release of one of his sons, whom he said was jailed in Dubai,” Hayat said.

The stand-off, which began at 5.30 pm ended at 11 pm.

“Condition of Sikandar is critical and doctors are trying to save his life,” doctor Wasim Khawaja, a spokesman for the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims) hospital in central Islamabad told AFP.

“He received two bullets, one in the upper body and one in the left leg,” he added.

“The woman was hit in her right leg but she is out of danger.”

Jinnah Avenue is a busy commercial neighbourhood and is a high-security area as the road leads to the presidency and parliament house.

The area was evacuated with markets and shops shut down, and the road where the gunman’s black Toyota Corolla car was parked was blocked by police, who were surrounding him.

Bomb disposal experts checked the car for explosives after the gunman’s arrest and announced it was safe.

Police had earlier said the motives of Sikandar were unknown but he was demanding a safe passage and protection for his family.

The drama was broadcast live by at least three private television channels, with TV anchors questioning how police and other law enforcement agencies failed to check an armed man who drove into an area so close to the presidency and parliament house.

President Asif Ali Zardari praised Khan’s actions during the stand-off.

Zardari “lauded the courage of PPP leader Zamurad Khan who, risking his own life, has helped law enforcing agencies getting hold of the armed man tonight in Islamabad”, a statement from the presidency said.

“The president also appreciated the role of security agencies who have handled the situation in a discreet manner and have averted any mishap,” it added.

Indian army opens unprovoked fire at Sialkot sector checkpost

SIALKOT: Indian Border Security Forces’ (BSF) personnel Sunday opened unprovoked fire on a Pakistani Rangers’ checkpost in the Sialkot sector.

Pakistan Rangers resorted to retaliatory firing. However, no casualties were reported in the incident.

Following the attack, Rangers called for investigations to be launched.

According to military sources, the exchange of fire continued for a few hours, but no loss of life was reported.

Earlier on August 6, India accused Pakistani troops of involvement over an attack on an army post in the disputed Kashmir region in which five of its soldiers were killed.

The five were killed late Monday night on August 6 at an outpost some 200 kilometres south of Srinagar, Indian officials said.

The Pakistan army however denied responsibility.

The Foreign Office rejected allegations of Pakistan’s involvement as “baseless and unfounded”, saying the country was committed to its ceasefire promises and wanted to resume peace talks with India soon.

Meanwhile, the Directors General Military Operations (DGMOs) of Pakistan and India on August 7 spoke over the hotline on the situation on the LoC, a UN-monitored de facto border dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

Pakistan’s DGMO Major General Ashfaq Nadeem strongly denied that Pakistani troops were involved in the killing of five Indian soldiers, adding that the accusations levelled against the country’s soldiers were without foundation and utterly baseless, sources said.

Major General Nadeem moreover told his Indian counterpart that Pakistan wholeheartedly respected the ceasefire agreement with India.

On August 8, Pakistani military officials said Indian troops opened fire and seriously wounded a male civilian along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir.

Interpol issues global security alert after jailbreaks in Pakistan, Iraq and Libya

PARIS: Interpol issued a global security alert on Saturday advising its members to increase their vigilance against attacks after a series of prison breaks in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan that the agency is investigating to determine if they were linked.

The Lyon, France-based Interpol said given that al Qaeda was suspected to be involved in some of the incidents, it was asking its 190 member countries to watch out for information connected to the prison breaks, with an aim to determine whether they were coordinated and also locate the escaped prisoners.

On Friday, the United States issued a worldwide travel alert warning Americans that al Qaeda may be planning attacks in August, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.

The State Department travel alert was based on the same intelligence that prompted it to close 21 US embassies and consulates on Sunday, Aug 4, chiefly those in the Muslim world, a US official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Britain said it would close its embassy in Yemen on Sunday and Monday. “We are particularly concerned about the security situation in the final days of Ramazan and into Eid,” the Foreign Office said in a statement, referring to the Muslim holy month which ends on Wednesday.

France also plans to close its embassy in Yemen on Sunday, a spokesman for the foreign ministry said.

Prison breaks took place in Dera Ismail Khan in Pakistan on July 31 in a Taliban-led operation and in Iraq at the Abu Ghraib prison overnight on July 22.

Some 500 convicts, among them senior al Qaeda operatives, escaped from Abu Ghraib. More than 240 prisoners, among them hardcore militants of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) escaped from the Pakistani prison. More than 1,100 inmates broke out of a prison on the outskirts of Benghazi on July 27.

Interpol also noted that August was the anniversary of several violent attacks over the past years, including in Mumbai and Nairobi.

“Staff at INTERPOL’s 24-hour Command and Coordination Centre and other specialised units are … prioritizing all information and intelligence in relation to the breakouts or terrorist plots in order to immediately inform relevant member countries of any updates,” the agency in a statement.

Pakistani Taliban commander wishes Malala attack never happened

PESHAWAR: A Pakistani Taliban commander has written a letter to Malala Yousafzai, the teenage girl activist shot in the head by the group, saying he wished he could have advised her against criticising the banned outfit so she wouldn’t be attacked.

The commander, Adnan Rashid, however did not apologise for the unsuccessful assassination attempt, but only he found it ”shocking” and wished it hadn’t happened.

Rashid, who is known to have has close relations with top Taliban leaders, said the letter expressed his own opinion, not that of the militant group.

Adnan Rashid was the prime convict in an attack on former president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf and was freed by Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) fighters during the Bannu Jail break last year.

A former junior technician of Pakistan Air Force, Rashid was a resident of Chota Lahor area of Swabi district. He is fluent in English, Pashto and Urdu. He used to contribute to several social networking sites including Blogs and Facebook from the prison. He had joined PAF in 1997. He was around 24 when he was arrested in early 2004.

Gunmen from the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan shot Malala, now 16, in the head last October in her northwestern hometown of Swat, where she campaigned for the rights of girls to go to school.

The attack on Malala, who was 15 years old at the time, had sparked widespread international condemnation of the militant group.

Malala made a powerful speech to the UN Youth Assembly on Friday, in her first public appearance since the attempt on her life which almost killed her, vowing to continue her struggle for education and not be silenced by the militants.

In the open letter released Wednesday, Rashid said he personally wished the attack had not happened, but accused her of running a “smearing campaign” against the militants.

“It is amazing that you are shouting for education, you and the UNO (UN) is pretending that you were shot due to education, although this is not the reason … not the education but your propaganda was the issue,” Rashid wrote.

“What you are doing now, you are using your tongue on the behest of the others.”

He accused Malala of seeking to promote an education system begun by the British colonialists to produce “Asians in blood but English in taste” and said students should study Islam and not what he called “satanic or secular curriculum.”

“I advise you to come back home, adopt the Islamic and Pashtun culture, join any female Islamic madrassa near your home town, study and learn the book of Allah, use your pen for Islam and plight of Muslim ummah (community),” Rashid wrote.

He said he had originally wanted to write to Malala to warn her against criticising the Taliban when she rose to prominence with a blog for the BBC Urdu service chronicling life under the militants’ 2007-9 rule in Swat.

The Pakistani Taliban have kidnapped and shot other education activists like Malala and also have blown up hundreds of schools in Pakistan’s northwest. The Pakistani army launched a large offensive against the Taliban in Swat in the spring of 2009 and drove out many of the militants, but they have continued periodic attacks.

Rashid said the Taliban only blow up schools that Pakistani soldiers use as hideouts. Teachers and activists say this is only partly true. Some were targeted because they were used by the military, but many of the attacks were motivated by the Taliban’s opposition to girls’ education and schooling that doesn’t follow their strict interpretation of Islam, the teachers and activists say.

Rashid also justified recent attacks in Pakistan on health workers providing children with polio vaccinations, claiming the West is trying to sterilize Muslims. The Taliban have denied carrying out such attacks in the past.

The Taliban commander also criticised the UN honouring Malala as he said the world ignores civilians being killed in US drone attacks in Pakistan’s northwest. The UN is currently conducting an investigation into allegations of civilian casualties from US drone attacks.

“Nobody will believe a word the Taliban say about the right of girls like Malala to go to school until they stop burning down schools and stop massacring pupils,” said Gordon Brown, the former British prime minister and now UN Special Envoy for Global Education, who has supported Malala since she was shot

Egyptian soldier killed in militant attack

CAIRO: An Egyptian soldier was killed early on Friday in coordinated rocket and machinegun attacks by militants on army checkpoints and a police base in the restive Sinai, medics said.

Two other soldiers were wounded when militants fired on an army checkpoint near the north Sinai village of al-Gura. Elsewhere, militants attacked a police base with rockets, security sources said.

Hardcore militants have used the sparsely populated north of the peninsula as a launching pad for attacks on security forces and neighbouring Israel.

Following president Mohamed Morsi’s ouster by the military on Thursday, several militants have publicly threatened violence in retaliation.

Morsi, elected in June 2012 and deposed on Wednesday after mass protests, had himself ordered a crackdown on Sinai militants after an August 2012 attack killed 16 soldiers.

Obama calls 19 firefighters killed in Arizona ‘heroes’

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama hailed the 19 firefighters killed battling a wildfire in Arizona as “heroes,” in a statement early Monday.

The firefighters died late Sunday afternoon while racing to contain the Yarnell Hill wildfire north of Phoenix, in what is believed to be the deadliest incident of its kind in the United States in 80 years.

“They were heroes — highly-skilled professionals who, like so many across our country do every day, selflessly put themselves in harm’s way to protect the lives and property of fellow citizens they would never meet,” Obama said.

Local media reported the fire was zero per cent contained early Monday, had forced the evacuations of hundreds of people and threatened some 250 homes.

“The federal government is already assisting, and we will remain in close contact with state and local officials to provide the support they need,” he said as he headed to Tanzania on the final leg of an official tour of Africa with his family.

“But today, Michelle and I join all Americans in sending our thoughts and prayers to the families of these brave firefighters and all whose lives have been upended by this terrible tragedy.

”Figures from the National Fire Protection Association, a non-profit organization, show that the Arizona deaths are the worst firefighter fatalities from a wildfire since 29 firefighters died fighting a blaze in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park in 1933.