A new Qaeda affiliate in Syria has claimed responsibility for a March 11 double bomb attack targeting Shi'ite pilgrims in Damascus that killed at least 40 Iraqis and wounded 120 more. Footage broadcast by Syrian state TV showed two buses with their windows blown out, the surroundings splattered with blood and littered with lost shoes and clothing. The attack took place near Bab al-Saghir cemetery, named for one of the seven gates of the Old City of Damascus. The pilgrims had arrived to pray at the cemetery after visiting the Sayeda Zeinab shrine outside Damascus, where the grand-daughter of the Prophet Mohammad is said to be buried. In a statement claiming responsibility, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Liberation of the Levant Organization) said the attack was "a message to Iran" over its support for the Bashar Assad regime. The group is identified as a breakaway faction of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (the former Nusra Front) that has maintained ties with al-Qaeda. (BBC News, Reuters)
In a "worrying reversal" for global anti-drug efforts, the latest annual report from the United Nations Office for Drug and Crime (UNODC) finds that opium cultivation in Afghanistan increased 43% over the past year—with a total estimated yeild of 4,800 tons compared to 3,300 tons in 2015, The area under poppy cultivation increased 10% according to the report—clocking in at 201,000 hectares (496,681 acres), up from 183,000 hectares (452,200 acres). Simultaneously, there was a 91% decrease in eradication across the country—with no eradication reported at all in the top producing provinces. "It is very disturbing to see a considerable increase in poppy cultivation in the north which may be linked with a deteriorating security situation in the region," said Andrey Avetisyan, UNODC's chief in Afghanistan, at an Oct. 23 Kabul press conference.
A blast at a Sufi shrine in the Pakistani region of Balochistan killed at least 60 and injured more than 100 on Nov. 12. The Shah Noorani Shrine in the mountain town of Hub, straddling Lasbela and Khuzdar districts, was packed with worshippers when the bomb exploded. Devotees were gathered for a traditional dhamal dance ritual at the shrine to the saint Shah Bilal Noorani. The shrine's remote location has impeded rescue efforts. The shrine attracts devotees from all over Pakistan, as well as neighboring Iran. The local franchise of ISIS issued a statement taking responsibility for the attack through its Amaq News Agency, saying it was carried out by a suicide "martyr," and sought to target "Shi'ites." The shrine is venerated by Sunnis and Shi'ites alike.
ISIS and the Pakistani Taliban both claimed responsibility for the Oct. 24 suicide attack at a police academy in Quetta that killed at least 60 and wounded more than 120. But Pakistani officials claim another jihadist group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami, carried out the assault. At least three fighters armed with assault weapons, grenades, and suicide vests attacked the dormitory of the academy as cadets were sleeping. Two of the suicide bombers detonated their vests, causing the bulk of the casualties, while the third was shot by security guards. Pakistan's Frontier Corps said that a cell of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi network carried out the attack, and claimed that the assault team communicated with handlers based in Afghanistan. The Islamic State's "Khorasan Province" also took responsibility for the attack in a statement released on Amaq News Agency, the ISIS propaganda arm. The Karachi faction of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan likewise claimed credit for the attack. In an e-mail received by Long War Journal, the group said four of its "suicide fighters" executed the attack, which was carried to "avenge the martyrdom of our mujahideen." (LWJ, Oct. 25)
Militants opened fire on Shi'ite worshipers celebrating Ashura at the Imam Ali shrine in the Karte Sakhi district of the Afghan capital Kabul Oct. 11, leaving at least 14 dead and 36 others wounded. According to eyewitnesses, at least one of the gunmen detonated a suicide vest after shooting into the crowd. Shi'ites make up about 15% of Afghanistan's population, mostly members of the Hazara ethnic group. They have been increasingly targetted for terror in recent months. Although no group has yet taken responsibility for the Karte Sakhi terror, previous attacks on the Hazara have been claimed by the Afghan franchise of ISIS.
Ahmad Rahami, the suspect in last week's bombings in New York and New Jersey, was charged (PDF) in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York Sept. 20. The charges include: Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Bombing a Place of Public Use, Destruction of Property by Means of Fire or Explosive, and Use of a Destructive Device During and in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence. Rahami is also facing similar charges (PDF) in the US District Court for the District of New Jersey. The Sept. 17 bombings injured 29 in New York; no one was injured in the New Jersey attack. Rahami was arrested two days later after sustaining injuries during a shootout with police in in Linden, NJ. The suspect also faces charges of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer stemming from the shootout.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte declared a "state of lawlessness" after a Sept. 2 bomb blast at a night market in the southern city of Davao, where he had long served as mayor. Duterte was unclear on what exactly his declaration means, and denied that he is instating martial law. But he stated ominously that he will "invite uniformed personnel to run the country." The blast, which killed at least 14 people and injured some 70, was claimed by the ISIS-affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). ASG spokesperson Abu Rami said the attack is a "call for unity to all mujahedeen in the country" amid the government's new offensive against the group in its strionghold islands of Sulu and Basilan. Duterte had days earlier ordered intensified operations to finish off the 400-strong militant group, following the death of 15 soldiers in a clash in Patikul, Sulu province.
ISIS claimed responsibility for twin suicide blasts that killed at least 80 and wounded 230 Shi'ite Hazaras who were gathered in Kabul for a protest demonstration July 23—the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since 2001. The attack represents a major escalation for ISIS in Afghanistan, which so has largely been largely confined to the eastern province of Nangarhar. The attakc was claimed in a short statement posted by Amaq Agency, the ISIS media arm. The Taliban issued a statement rejeccting the attack, saying it was aimed at sowing divisions among Afghanistan's communitie. The Talibam waged a campaign of genocide against the Hazaras during their time in power in the 1990s.