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Rise in Islamic State Khorasan Deadly Attacks Could Be Sign of Group’s Growing Strength in Afghanistan

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Attacks by Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) in Afghanistan have become more deadly since the withdrawal of NATO forces, with at least 346 civilians killed by the group since late August.

The insurgents carried out bombings in areas where previously they had little presence. A security expert told Sky News this could be a sign of the group’s growing strength.

Earlier this week, US Pentagon officials suggested ISIS-K intended to carry out attacks against the West and could have the ability to do so within six months.

The group is an affiliate of Islamic State based in South and Central Asia and are ideologically opposed to the Taliban’s nationalist view of Afghanistan, instead seeking to establish an Islamic State across the region.

During and after the US withdrawal, Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) have carried out a suspected 21 attacks in Afghanistan.

The deadliest of these was on 26 August when a suicide bomb at Kabul’s main airport killed 170 civilians and 13 US marines.

Since then, there have been several ISIS-K attacks across Afghanistan, including seven between 18 September – 6 October that killed 18 people.

On 8 October an ISIS-K suicide bomber targeted a Hazara mosque in the northern city of Kunduz, killing at least 43 people.

The picture below shows the damage caused by the bomb inside the mosque.

Shortly after, between 8-12 October, five attacks in four days around Jalalabad, an ISIS-K stronghold, targeted both the Taliban and civil society activists.

A few days later on 15 October, CCTV captured two men attacking a Shia mosque in Kandahar, in the south of the country.

At least 47 people were killed in the suicide attack carried out when prayers were underway in the courtyard of the mosque.

At least five further attacks have occurred since the 15 October mosque attack in Kandahar, meaning around 408 people have been killed by ISIS-K in Afghanistan since August 26, including 346 civilians.

This level of ISIS-K attacks is not unprecedented. In 2018 they were responsible for more deaths globally than all but three other terrorist groups that year. Operations by the Afghan government and NATO forces helped reduce the threat throughout 2019 and 2020.

But now the number of attacks is rising again, with civilian casualties in October 2021 alone higher than in the first nine months of 2020.

Many of these attacks have taken place in the east of the country in Nangarhar province, where ISIS-K has a strong presence.

The Taliban has retaliated, with reports of people being dragged from their homes and killed in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar, for allegedly being ISIS-K members or supporters.

The worsening situation is only exacerbating the existing humanitarian crisis within Afghanistan. The UN has warned that without urgent humanitarian relief the country is on a “countdown to catastrophe”.

It already has one of the largest populations internationally facing acute hunger and it is estimated that up to a million children are at risk of starvation.

Who are ISIS-K?

They were formed in 2015 by disaffected members of the Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban, and Uzbek Islamists and have a “cadre of a few thousand” fighters according to the US Department of Defence.

They want to establish an Islamic caliphate across the region and have targeted ethnic minorities such as Hazara Muslims as well as civil society activists, aid agencies, and the former Afghan government.

Yet many of their actions have been against the Taliban, with 11 of 20 of their fatal attacks carried out in Afghanistan since NATO’s withdrawal being aimed at the new governing group.

What has changed since the withdrawal?

The flurry of attacks highlight the challenge facing the Taliban, who are now expected to provide security across the country despite lacking the manpower, skills, and finance of the previous Afghan government.

Dr Antionio Giustozzi, a senior research fellow at the defence think tank the Royal United Services Institute, said: “ISIS-K’s main enemy has always been the Taliban – there were relatively few incidents between them and the Americans previously.

“What’s different now is the spread of their activity across Afghanistan – Charikar, Kunduz, and Kandahar – these are places ISIS-K didn’t have overt activity before.

“The Islamic State sees the Taliban as being in a weak position right now as they are stretched very thin financially and militarily. Their manpower is taken up controlling the cities, so ISIS-K see now as the right time to strike.”

This week, a US Department of Defence official said that ISIS-K also intends to attack Western countries but that they don’t currently have the means to do so.

Analysis by Deborah Haynes, Security and Defence Editor

The big fear among western security chiefs is that Afghanistan again becomes a haven for terrorist groups to launch attacks against the United States, the UK and other allies.

Al-Qaeda was allowed to plan and direct the 2001 terror attacks on the United States from the country under the previous Taliban regime.

It prompted the US-led invasion to destroy the group’s training camps and hunt down and kill or capture its leaders.

But 20 years on, al-Qaeda militants are regrouping and still enjoy close links with the Taliban. At the same time, a new threat in the form of the Islamic State offshoot Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) has taken root.

Unlike al-Qaeda, ISIS-K is an enemy of the Taliban. Taliban leaders will also know that if the group is able to conduct attacks on the West from their soil they will face the possibility of US-led airstrikes and possibly even special forces raids inside Afghanistan once more.

It is not just the US that will be monitoring developments with ISIS-K closely.

For the threat to be controlled, the support of other external powers will likely be needed. According to Dr Guistozzi: “The Taliban can only consolidate with support of the regional powers, notably China and Russia. Both of these countries are against the Islamic State – ISIS-K fear Russia in particular and their ruthless airstrikes, like they carried out in Syria.”

Reporting: Jack Taylor and Kieran Devine

Maps and Digital Production: Ganesh Rao

Satellite imagery: Google Earth
Data: The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED)

The Data and Forensics team is a multi-skilled unit dedicated to providing transparent journalism from Sky News. We gather, analyse and visualise data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite images, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling we aim to better explain the world while also showing how our journalism is done.

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WHO Estimates 15m People Have Died Directly or Indirectly From COVID – More Than Double Official Death Toll

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The World Health Organisation estimates that 15 million people worldwide have now died of coronavirus – or as a result of its impact on health services.

WHO data shows the number of excess COVID mortalities to be somewhere between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people from 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2021. This is more than double the official death toll of around six million.

Excess mortality refers to the number of people who have died of the virus either directly or indirectly by being unable to access health services for other conditions.

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The figures were compiled using country-reported data and statistical modelling, the WHO said.

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There were 14.9 million excess deaths associated with COVID-19 by the end of 2021, the UN body said on Thursday.

Most excess COVID deaths (86%) happened in Asia, Europe and the Americas, according to the figures.

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Middle-income countries accounted for 81% of deaths, with 28% occurring in upper-middle-income countries and 4% in low-income ones.

Some 68% of all excess deaths worldwide happened in just 10 countries.

There was a higher rate for men (57%) than there was for women (43%), with more excess deaths among the elderly than younger generations.

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WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commented: “These sobering data not only point to the impact of the pandemic but also to the need for all countries to invest in more resilient health systems that can sustain essential health services during crises, including stronger health information systems.

“WHO is committed to working with all countries to strengthen their health information systems to generate better data for better decisions and better outcomes.”

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Original Source: news.sky.com

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Pope Francis Seen Using Wheelchair for the First Time for Mobility Reasons

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The Pope has been pictured using a wheelchair – the first time he’s used one in public due to the knee pain that’s made it hard for him to walk and stand.

Francis, 85, was wheeled on stage and helped into a seat during an audience with a group of nuns and religious superiors from around the world at the Vatican.

He appears to be having a flare-up of sciatica, a nerve condition he suffers with that he’s called his “troublesome guest”.

The Pope has had to cancel or cut short activities several times in the last month because of pain in his right knee.

He was pictured in a wheelchair last July after major intestinal surgery, but this is believed to be the first time he’s used one in public due to his mobility problems.

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Before Thursday’s event, he was able to walk the roughly 10 metres or so from the side entrance of the stage to his seat with some help.

He recently received some injections to try to relieve the pain but has continued to struggle.

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His impaired movement was apparent over Easter when he attended but did not take charge of masses at St Peter’s Basilica, instead delegating a cardinal or archbishop to preside.

During a trip to Malta in April he was also pictured using an elevator platform to get on and off the plane.

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Original Article: news.sky.com

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Woman Pulled Alive From Rubble Six Days After Building Collapsed

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A woman has been found alive in the rubble of a building that partially collapsed almost six days earlier, Chinese state media has said.

At least five people are confirmed to have died and possibly dozens are still missing following the disaster in the city of Changsha, in central China‘s Hunan Province, on 29 April.

The unidentified woman has become the 10th survivor and was rescued shortly after midnight today, about 132 hours after the rear of the six-storey building suddenly caved in, the official Xinhua News Agency has reported.

The woman was conscious and told rescuers how to pull her out without causing further injury, Xinhua added.

Teams had used dogs and hand tools as well as drones and electronic life detectors in the search.

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All the survivors were reportedly in good condition after being treated in a hospital and it is thought intermittent rain showers over the last few days may have helped their chances of survival without food or water.

At least nine people have been arrested in relation to the collapse of what Xinhua has described as a “self-built building”.

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This includes its owner, on suspicion of ignoring building codes or committing other violations.

Three people in charge of design and construction were also held, along with five others who allegedly gave a false safety assessment for a guest house on the building’s fourth to sixth floors.

The building also housed residences, a cafe and shops.

Image:
An aerial photo shows the site of the collapsed residential building in Changsha, central China’s Hunan Province

There has been increase in the number of collapses of self-built buildings in recent years.

Last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for additional checks to uncover structural weaknesses.

Following the building collapse at the weekend, he urged for more victims to be found in the rubble “at all costs”.

Poor adherence to safety standards, including the illegal addition of extra floors and failure to use reinforcing iron bars, is often blamed for similar disasters.

China also suffers from decaying infrastructure such as gas pipes that has led to explosions and collapses.

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Source: news.sky.com

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