TIME Pakistan

Attacks in Southwestern Pakistan Kill 12 People

(QUETTA, Pakistan) — Attacks in Pakistan’s troubled southwestern province of Baluchistan, including an assault on the country’s beleaguered minority Shiites Muslims and a suicide bombing targeting a pro-Taliban cleric, killed 12 people on Thursday, police said.

All the attacks took place in the provincial capital of Quetta.

In one attack, near a vegetable market on the city’s outskirts, four gunmen on motorcycles sprayed a minivan carrying Hazara Shiites with gunfire, said police chief Aitzaz Goraya.

Six men died on board the bus while the gunmen chased down another two as they tried to flee and shot them dead, Goraya said. Two other people on the bus were wounded.

Pakistani television broadcast footage from the scene, showing police removing bodies of the dead and helping the wounded as family members of the deceased cried and wailed.

Hundreds of Hazara later blocked a main road in Quetta to protest the killings.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, and Goraya said it was not clear who was behind it. But suspicion is likely to fall on Sunni extremists, who have often targeted Shiites in the past.

In the past, attacks on Shiites were often claimed by the Sunni militant groups Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Pakistani Taliban.

In June, the Pakistani military launched an offensive in the country’s main Taliban stronghold in North Waziristan, a tribal region near Afghan border. The Taliban have been waging a war against the state there in a bid to topple the government and impose their harsh brand of Islamic law, and have killed thousands of Pakistanis over the last decade.

Baluchistan is home to Baluch separatist and nationalist groups that have been fighting for autonomy and a greater share of revenues from the region’s natural resources. A suicide bombing earlier in October in Quetta killed five Hazara.

Goraya and another official, Shahzada Farhat, said the Hazara are often given police escorts for security but that those targeted on Thursday were unaccompanied because they had not informed the police in advance of their trip.

Later on Thursday in Quetta, a bomb rigged to a motorcycle exploded near an army patrol, killing two civilians and wounding 10 people, including two paramilitary soldiers. The bombing happened about two kilometers (1.4 miles) away from the site of the attack on the Hazara, said Farhat.

By dusk, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden vest next to a bullet proof car carrying Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the chief of the Taliban-linked Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam religious party, said Baluchistan police chief Amlesh Khan.

Rehman, who had just finished addressing a rally of thousands of supporters in Quetta, survived the attack, which killed two people and wounded several others, Khan said.

The religious party is based in Pakistan but has links with the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. Rehman’s religious schools had been one of the main breeding grounds for the Afghan Taliban.

Rehman has previously survived at least two attempts on his life.

“I never know who wants to kill me,” he told Pakistani Geo News TV. “Maybe because I talk against America, or because I work for the enforcement of the Islamic system.”

___

Shahzad reported from Islamabad

TIME justice

Blackwater Guards Found Guilty in Iraq Shootings

Former Blackwater Worldwide guard Nicholas Slatten leaves federal court in Washington on June 11, 2014.
Former Blackwater Worldwide guard Nicholas Slatten leaves federal court in Washington on June 11, 2014. Cliff Owen—AP

(WASHINGTON) — Four former Blackwater security guards were found guilty Wednesday in the 2007 shootings of more than 30 Iraqis in Baghdad, and a federal judge ordered them immediately to jail.

In an overwhelming victory for prosecutors, a jury found Nicholas Slatten guilty of first-degree murder. The three other three guards — Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard — were found guilty of multiple counts of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and gun charges.

The four men had been charged with a combined 33 counts in the shootings and the jury was able to reach a verdict on all of them, with the exception of three charges against Heard. The prosecution agreed to drop those charges.

The outcome after a summerlong trial and weeks of jury deliberation stunned the defense.

David Schertler, a lawyer for Heard, said “the verdict is wrong, it’s incomprehensible. We’re devastated. We’re going to fight it every step of the way. We still think we’re going to win.”

The shootings on Sept. 16, 2007, caused an international uproar over the role of defense contractors in urban warfare.

The State Department hired Blackwater to protect American diplomats in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, and elsewhere in the country. Blackwater convoys of four heavily armored vehicles operated in risky environments where car bombs and attacks by insurgents were common.

Slatten was charged with first-degree murder; the others were charged with voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and gun charges.

The case was mired in legal battles for years, making it uncertain whether the defendants would ever be tried.

The trial focused on the killings of 14 Iraqis and the wounding of 17 others. During an 11-week trial, prosecutors summoned 72 witnesses, including Iraqi victims, their families and former colleagues of the defendant Blackwater guards.

There was sharp disagreement over the facts in the case.

The defendants’ lawyers said there was strong evidence the guards were targeted with gunfire from insurgents and Iraqi police, leading the guards to shoot back in self-defense. Federal prosecutors said there was no incoming gunfire and that the shootings by the guards were unprovoked.

The prosecution focused on the defendants’ intent, contending that some of the Blackwater guards harbored a low regard and deep hostility toward Iraqi civilians.

The guards, the prosecution said, held “a grave indifference” to the death and injury that their actions probably would cause Iraqis. Several former Blackwater guards testified that they had been generally distrustful of Iraqis, based on experience the guards said they had had in being led into ambushes.

Prosecutors said that from a vantage point inside his convoy’s command vehicle, Slatten aimed his SR-25 sniper rifle through a gun portal, killing the driver of a stopped white Kia sedan, Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia’y.

At the trial, two Iraqi traffic officers and one of the shooting victims testified the car was stopped at the time the shots were fired. The assertion that the car was stopped supported the prosecution argument that the shots were unwarranted.

Defense lawyers pressed their argument that other Blackwater guards — not Slatten — fired the first shots at the Kia sedan and that they did so only after the vehicle moved slowly toward the convoy, posing what appeared to be a threat to the Blackwater guards’ safety.

Once the shooting started, hundreds of Iraqi citizens ran for their lives.

It was “gunfire coming from the left, gunfire coming from the right,” prosecutor Anthony Asuncion told the jury in closing arguments.

One of the government witnesses in the case, Blackwater guard Jeremy Ridgeway, pleaded guilty to killing the driver’s mother, who died in the passenger seat of the white Kia next to her son.

The maximum sentence for conviction of first-degree murder is life imprisonment. The gun charges carry mandatory minimum prison terms of 30 years. The maximum prison term for involuntary manslaughter is eight years; for attempted manslaughter it is seven years.

TIME isis

Pentagon: 1 Weapons Bundle Seized by Militants

(WASHINGTON) — The Pentagon is confirming that Islamic State group militants were able to seize one of the 28 bundles of weapons and medical supplies dropped to Kurdish forces on Monday.

Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, says that two of the bundles went astray. One was destroyed by the U.S. The other fell into enemy hands and included small weapons, hand grenades, medical supplies and ammunition. Warren said it appears the wind caused the parachute to go off course.

He says the weapons in the bundle are not enough to give the enemy any type of advantage.

Activists said Tuesday the weapons were seized by the extremist fighters. A video uploaded by a media group loyal to IS militants showed the extremists with the pallet of weapons and other materials.

TIME Canada

Police: Soldier Shot at War Memorial in Ottawa

Armed RCMP officers head towards the Langevin Block on Parliament Hilll following a shooting incident in Ottawa on Oct. 22, 2014.
Armed RCMP officers head towards the Langevin Block on Parliament Hilll following a shooting incident in Ottawa on Oct. 22, 2014. Chris Wattie—Reuters

(OTTAWA, Ontario) — Police and witnesses say a gunman has shot a Canadian soldier standing guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

Witnesses also said the gunman entered Parliament and shots rang out. Royal Canadian Mounted Police warned people in downtown Ottawa to stay away from windows and rooftops.

The shooting, which happened shortly before 10 a.m., comes just two days after two Canadian soldiers were run over — and one of them killed — in Quebec by a man with jihadist sympathies.

Earlier: Police say a soldier standing guard at the National War Memorial has been shot by an unknown gunman.

Ottawa police confirmed they had a call at 9:52 a.m. Wednesday with a report of shots fired, and witnesses reported seeing a gunman running toward Parliament Hill, which is under lockdown. Others on the Hill told Canadian Press they heard shots being fired in several different corridors.

The top spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Harper was safe and had left Parliament Hill.

Emergency responders are still on the scene and paramedics took the wounded soldier away in an ambulance.

The incident comes just two days after two Canadian soldiers were run over — and one of them killed — in Quebec by a man with jihadist sympathies.

TIME Government

Social Security Benefits to Go Up by 1.7%

(WASHINGTON) — The government says millions of older Americans who rely on federal benefits will get a 1.7 percent increase in their monthly payments next year.

It’s the third year in a row the increase will be less than 2 percent.

The annual cost-of-living adjustment affects payments for more than 70 million Social Security recipients, disabled veterans and federal retirees.

The government announced the increase Wednesday, when it released the latest measure of consumer prices. By law, the increase is based on inflation, which is well below historical averages so far this year.

Congress enacted automatic increases for Social Security beneficiaries in 1975. Until recently, the increases were rarely less than 2 percent.

TIME North Korea

North Korean Detainee Lands Back Home in Ohio

Jeffrey Fowle
Jeffrey Fowle, an American detained in North Korea speaks to the Associated Press, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. Wong Maye-E—AP

(WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio) — An Ohio man detained for nearly half a year in North Korea has landed back home.

Officials say a plane carrying Jeffrey Fowle landed Wednesday morning at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton.

The State Department announced Tuesday that the 56-year-old Miamisburg resident had been released. The news came about six months after he was taken into custody after leaving a Bible at a nightclub. Christian evangelism is considered a crime in North Korea.

He had been awaiting trial — the only one of three Americans held by Pyongyang who had not been convicted of charges.

The two others were each sentenced to years in North Korean prisons after court trials that lasted no more than 90 minutes. The three Americans entered North Korea separately.

TIME North Korea

North Korea Detainee Due Back in Ohio

Jeffrey Fowle
Jeffrey Fowle, an American detained in North Korea speaks to the Associated Press, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. Wong Maye-E—AP

(CINCINNATI) — News that an Ohio man had been freed from North Korea after being detained there for nearly six months triggered the same response in his wife and former co-workers: Delight.

Jeffrey Fowle’s wife cried out with joy, the family’s attorney said Tuesday. And a manager in the suburban Dayton city where Fowle formerly worked said they were “delighted to hear the news.”

The State Department announced Tuesday that the 56-year-old Miamisburg resident was released nearly a half-year after he was taken into custody after leaving a Bible at a nightclub. He had been awaiting trial.

Attorney Timothy Tepe said Fowle was able to later call his wife himself on his way home. He was expected to arrive in Ohio on Wednesday, his former employer said in a statement.

Two other Americans who have been convicted of crimes in North Korea are still being held.

There was no immediate explanation for the release of Fowle, who was quickly whisked to the U.S. territory of Guam before heading back to his wife and three children.

Relations between Washington and Pyongyang, never warm, are at a particularly low point, and the U.S. has sought unsuccessfully for months to send a high-level representative to North Korea to negotiate acquittals for all three men.

Moraine, the city where Fowle worked as a streets department employee, terminated his employment last month.

“We’re delighted to hear the news and look forward to him returning to the community and his family,” David Hicks, Moraine’s city manager, said Tuesday. He didn’t discuss Fowle’s employment.

The Dayton Daily News reported last month that the city said Fowle’s termination included $70,000 in severance pay and the ability to be reinstated.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Fowle was seen by doctors and appeared to be in good medical health. She declined to give more details about his release except to thank the government of Sweden, which has an embassy in Pyongyang, for its “tireless efforts.”

Harf would not say whether any American officials had intervened directly with the North Koreans.

Fowle was flown out of North Korea on a U.S. military jet which was spotted at Pyongyang’s international airport Tuesday by two Associated Press journalists.

There was no immediate comment from the government of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The United States has no diplomatic relations with North Korea and strongly warns American citizens against traveling to the country.

Fowle arrived there on April 29 and was arrested in May for leaving a Bible at the nightclub. Christian evangelism is considered a crime in North Korea.

___

Jakes reported from Washington. Associated Press journalists Eric Talmadge and Maye-E Wong in Pyongyang, North Korea, and Deb Riechmann and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

TIME Afghanistan

Afghan Opium Poppy Cultivation Hits All-Time High 

AFGHANISTAN-UNREST-POPPY
An Afghan farmer works in a poppy field on the outskirts of Kandahar on April 27, 2014 Javed Tanveer—AFP/Getty Images

As of June 30, 2014, the U.S. had spent approximately $7.6 billion on counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan grew to an all-time high in 2013 despite America spending more than $7 billion to fight it over the past decade, a U.S. report showed on Tuesday.

Federal auditors SIGAR reported that Afghan farmers grew an unprecedented 209,000 hectares of the poppy in 2013, blowing past the previous peak of 193,000 hectares in 2007.

As of June 30, 2014, the report said, the United States had spent approximately $7.6 billion on counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan.

One factor for the surge was affordable deep-well technology, which over the past decade turned 200,000 hectares of desert in southwestern Afghanistan into arable land much of which is now being used for poppy cultivation.

Nangarhar province in the east, and other provinces, once declared “poppy free,” have seen a resurgence in cultivation. Nangarhar had been considered a model for successful counterinsurgency and counter-narcotics efforts and was deemed “poppy free” by the U.N. in 2008. It however saw a fourfold increase in opium poppy cultivation between 2012 and 2013.

An Afghan government official says that Taliban and opium smugglers are fighting for the income of opium in different parts of the country, while cultivation takes place mostly in the south and southwest where insurgents are highly active and the government has little influence.

“The recent fights in Helmand and other provinces of the country are in fact the fight against opium,” Afghan Counter Narcotics Minister Mubarez Rashedi told the country’s upper house of parliament. “The big opium smugglers alongside the Taliban are fighting against the Afghan government.”

TIME National Security

U.S.: 1 American Released From North Korea

Jeffrey Fowle
Jeffrey Fowle, an American detained in North Korea speaks to the Associated Press, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. Wong Maye-E—AP

(WASHINGTON) — Jeffrey Fowle, one of three Americans being held in North Korea, has been released, the State Department said Tuesday.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Fowle was on his way home Tuesday after negotiators left Pyongyang. Fowle is from Miamisburg, Ohio. Harf said the U.S. is still trying to free Americans Matthew Miller and Kenneth Bae.

Associated Press journalists in Pyongyang spotted the U.S. government plane at the capital’s international on Tuesday.

Washington has tried for months to send a high-level envoy to North Korea to seek release of the three men.

Analysts say North Korea has previously used detained Americans as leverage in its standoff with the U.S. over its nuclear and missile programs, a charge that Pyongyang denies.

TIME isis

IS Fighters Seize Weapons Airdrop Meant for Kurds

(BEIRUT) — Islamic State group fighters seized at least one cache of weapons airdropped by U.S.-led coalition forces that were meant to suppy Kurdish militiamen battling the extremist group in a border town, activists said Tuesday.

The cache of weapons included hand grenades, ammunition and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, according to a video uploaded by a media group loyal to the Islamic State. The video appeared authentic and corresponded to The Associated Press’ reporting of the event. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the militants had seized at least once cache, but may have seized more.

The Observatory, which bases its information on a network of activists on the ground, said the caches were airdropped early Monday to Kurds in the embattled Syrian town of Kobani that lies near the Turkish border. The militant group has been trying to seize the town for over a month now, causing the exodus of some 200,000 people from the area into Turkey. While Kurds are battling on the ground, a U.S.-led coalition is also targeting the militants from the air.

On Tuesday, Islamic State loyalists on social media posted sarcastic thank you notes to the United States, including one image that said, “Team USA.”

But the badly-aimed weapons drop was more an embarrassment than a great strategic loss. The Islamic State militants already possess millions of dollars-worth of U.S. weaponry that they captured from fleeing Iraqi soldiers when the group seized swaths of Iraq in a sudden sweep in June.

Also Tuesday, Syrian government airstrikes hit a rebel-held town along the country’s southern border with Jordan, killing at least eight people on Tuesday.

Activists with the Local Coordination Committees and the Britain-based Observatory said the number of those killed was likely to rise as there are more victims under the rubble.

The LCC said Syrian government planes dropped crude explosives-laden canisters on the town of Nasib on the Syria-Jordan border.

The airstrikes are part of battles between Syrian government forces and Islamic rebel groups for control of the area.

Syrian government forces have been heavily bombing rebel areas in recent weeks, while the U.S-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes against Islamic State militants elsewhere in Syria.

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