Pakistan Arrests Suspected Al Qaeda Commander; Indian Citizen Allegedly Behind ISIS Twitter Handle; School Bombing in Kabul
The South Asia Daily Brief for Friday, December 12, 2014.
Pakistan arrests suspected al Qaeda commander
Pakistani authorities arrested Shahid Usman, a suspected commander in al Qaeda’s South Asian wing late Thursday night (Reuters, Dawn). Police arrested Usman, who they say was actively planning attacks, along with four others in Karachi. They also seized weapons and 22 pounds of explosives. Police said Usman lived in the wealthy neighborhood of Defense and owned a car-parts dealership in one of the most expensive commercial areas of Karachi. Al Qaeda announced the formation of the South Asian wing on Sept. 4 and the group attempted to hijack a Pakistani navy ship shortly thereafter.
Khan attempt to shut down Karachi
Imran Khan, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party’s chairman, began his attempt to shut down Karachi on Friday (ET, Dawn). Supporters of Khan staged sit-ins at ten different locations across the city to protest alleged vote rigging in the 2013 general elections. Khan is calling for a judicial commission to be formed to investigate his allegations that the election was fraudulent, saying: “If the government sets up a judicial commission within the next 48 hours, I will call off my protest.” The protests have not been violent so far, although numerous roads were closed to traffic throughout the day.
Indian citizen allegedly operated ISIS’ Twitter handle
Mehdi, an Indian citizen based in the southern city of Bengaluru, also known as Bangalore, allegedly operated the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS’s) propaganda Twitter handle @ShamiWitness, according to Britain’s Channel 4 News on Friday (Post, Indian Express). An executive working for an Indian conglomerate, Mehdi’s ISIS Twitter handle had over 17,700 followers, which included jihadist fighters and Middle East analysts. Mehdi, through @ShamiWitness, supported people thinking to join ISIS and defended the Sunni militant group from detractors. Channel 4 reported that unlike his Twitter handle, Mehdi’s Facebook page was quite different with routine updates about dinners and work parties. It was also reported that Mehdi believed in beheadings, and would have liked to join ISIS. The report quoted Mehdi saying: “If I had a chance to leave everything and join them [ISIS] I might have… my family needs me here” (Economic Times).
The Twitter handle was shut down after these reports became public, and Indian officials are investigating the matter. Bengaluru Police Commissioner M.N. Reddi said: “I have seen the report as you have. We are investigating the matter. We have always been alert and we will try to get more details. I cannot deny or confirm this news because it doesn’t show any more. If you are talking of threat perception then we are ready as a city to face this. But our team is on the job and we will investigate” (IBNLive).
U.S. ‘troubled’ with Crimean leader’s visit to India
The United States said it was “troubled” that Sergiy Aksyonov, the leader of Crimea — a former Ukrainian territory annexed by Russia — visited India this week as a member of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual summit delegation, according to news reports on Friday (Reuters, Indian Express). U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said at her daily news conference: “We are troubled by reports that the delegation accompanying Putin may have included Sergiy Aksyonov… We understand that the Indian Ministry of External Affairs have said they were not officially aware of his visit or his participation in the delegation. We are seeking further clarification on that” (NDTV). Putin held talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Thursday, where they announced agreements in energy and defense, including Russia’s assistance in building at least 12 nuclear reactors in India.
Indian Army toughens social media rules
The Indian Army cautioned both serving personnel and veterans using social media to be more responsible with the image of the armed forces, and posted guidelines on their Facebook page, according to news reports on Thursday (Times of India, Indian Express). The guidelines were published in response to recent messages attacking the Indian Army’s leadership. Also, several unsigned messages critical of Modi’s recent election speech in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir were circulated. The Army posted: “There has been a concerted attempt by inimical elements to tarnish the image of the Army by posting malicious and damaging content based on half truths… personnel are prohibited from circulating chain mails, messages, posts etc on aspects of Armed Forces” (NDTV).
Suicide bomber attacks school
A young suicide bomber attacked a French-run school in Kabul on Thursday, killing at least one person and injuring dozens of others (BBC). The attack occurred during a performance of a play called “Heartbeat: Silence After the Explosion,” a theatrical condemnation of suicide attacks. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement that there were no French victims; Afghan officials said a German citizen was killed (AP). The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that the performance was immoral.
Afghanistan asks donors for money to pay salaries
Afghan Treasury Chief Alhaj Mohammad Aqa told Reuters on Thursday that Afghanistan does not have enough money to pay salaries this month and has asked aid donors for a bailout (Reuters). In September, Afghanistan asked for a $537 million bailout, but donors provided only $170 million. Aqa said the remainder of that is needed to pay the salaries of teachers, government workers, and doctors. Afghan officials met with representatives of the United Nations and 25 other donors this week to request additional funding.
— Emily Schneider and Neeli Shah
Edited by Peter Bergen
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