ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is reported to have fled to Afghanistan via Iran, to escape "Operation Roundup," a final offensive against remnant Islamic State pockets in Syria's eastern desert. The operation was launched last week by the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). London-based pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported that Baghdadi is believed to have reached Afghanistan's Nangarhar province, on the border with Pakistan. According to Pakistani security sources, Baghdadi crossed through the Iranian border city of Zahedan. The sources claimed Baghdadi received protection from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as he passed through the country's territory. ISIS now holds only three towns in Syria—Hajin, a-Baghouz and al-Sussa, all close to the Iraqi border.
In addition to stationing troops on the disputed islands it claims in the South China Sea, Beijing is rapidly expanding its network of commercial ports across the Indian Ocean. This comes as China is sending warships into the Ocean with growing frequency, leading to fears that the commercial ports could presage military bases, The latest addition is the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, acquired in a debt swap deal—the Colombo government was forgiven $1 billion in debt to Beijing in exchange for the Hambantota facility. The agreement explicitly bars China's military use of the port, but critics note that Sri Lanka remains heavily indebted to China, and could be pressured to allow it. The pact also comes as the People's Liberation Army is providing training to Sri Lanka's military. Beijing also donated a frigate to Sri Lanka's navy after the pact was announced. China is simultaenously loaning political support to the Sri Lanka government in its defiance of international pressure for a war crimes investigation over its internal conflict with Tamil rebels.
A suicide bomber killed at least 130 people at a campaign rally in southwestern Pakistan July 13— the deadliest attack in the country since 2014. A local candidate was among the dead in Mastung town, Balochistan province. The local franchise of the Islamic State took credit for the attack. That same day, a bomb attack on a rally in the northern town of Bannu, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killed four. Three days earlier, a suicide attack on a rally in Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, killed 20. The attacks come ahead of this month's general elections. Among those killed in Mastung was Balochistan provincial assembly candidate Siraj Raisani, of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP). (BBC News, Dawn, EWN)
Pakistan Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa on April 2 approved the death penalty for 10 condemned militants, including those convicted in the 2016 slaying of Amjad Sabri, one of the country's most revered singers of qawwalii, traditional Sufi devotional music. The accused, who were tried by special military courts, were held responsibile in a total of 62 deaths, also including those at the 2009 bombing of Peshawar's Pearl Continental Hotel. Sabri, 45, was on his way to a televised Ramadan performance in Karachi when his car was attacked. He was the son of renowned qawwal Ghulam Farid Sabri of the Chishti Sufi order, who was himself honored this week across Pakistan and India on the 24th anniversary of his death.. Amjad Sabri's widow, Nadia Sabri, said she could not understand why her husband was killed. “He was a man who praised Allah and His Prophet (peace be upon him),” she said. The Hakimullah Masood faction of Tehreek-e-Taliban claimed responsibility for the assassination of Sabri. (UrduPoint, April 5; PTI, Samaa, April 2)
The Trump administration has yet to repatriate Guantánamo detainee Ahmed Muhammed Haza al-Darbi to Saudi Arabia, effectively missing the Feb. 20 deadline established in his 2014 plea deal. Darbi pleaded guilty and admitted (PDF) to involvement in al-Qaeda operations including the 2002 attack on a French-flagged oil tanker near Yemen. In his pre-trial agreement (PDF), it was determined that, contingent on his cooperation, he would be sent back to Saudi Arabia to serve the duration of his sentence. Feb. 20 marked four years from the close of the deal and Darbi was not repatriated to Saudi Arabia.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on Jan. 25 advanced the minute hand of its Doomsday Clock to two minutes of midnight from its previous two-and-a-half minutes. "In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II," the Bulletin said in a statement. Finding that the "greatest risks last year arose in the nuclear realm," the statement of course cited the crisis over North Korea's atomic program, but also ongoing military exercises along the borders of NATO, upgrading of nuclear arsenals by the US and Russia, tensions over the South China Sea, a nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan, and uncertainty about continued US support for the Iran nuclear deal. These threats are worsened by "a breakdown in the international order that has been dangerously exacerbated by recent US actions."
Islamist leaders in Pakistan agreed Nov. 27 to call a halt to protests that had for nearly two weeks paralyzed Islamabad and other cities in return for the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid. Along with the deal, although seemingly not a part of it, a judicial panel ordered the release of 2008 Mumbai terror suspect Hafiz Saeed from house arrest, sparking angry protests from New Delhi. The protests were led by the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Party, linked to the Barelvi sect of Islam and fronted by the cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi. The protests were launched over Hamid's proposed changes to the oath taken by incoming lawmakers, omitting the language recognizing Muhammad as God's final prophet. Rizvi called the proposed change "blasphemy," which is a capital offense in Pakistan. Hamid quickly backtracked, calling the omission of the text a clerical error, and had it reinserted. Rizvi's followers still demanded his resignation, and protests reached by point of deadly violence before the deal was struck. In recent days, Islamabad considered calling in the army to clear the streets—raising fears about whether the army would respond, and the prospect of a face-off between the armed forces and civil authorities. (BBC News, NYT, Nov. 25; NYT, Nov. 27)
At least 90 were killed and some 400 others injured in a huge car-bomb explosion in Kabul May 31, targeting the city's diplomatic district of Wazir Akbar Khan, near the presidential palace. Most of the victims were civilians on their way to work during the morning rush hour. There has been no claim of responsibility for the blast, but the Afghan intelligence service NDS said in a statement that the Haqqani Network is suspected. Afghanistan has charged that the Taliban-aligned Haqqani Network receives support from Pakistan's intelligence agency. Taliban mouthpiece Zabihullah Mujahid released a statement denying responsibility in the attack, but days earlier he had issued a statement as Ramadan opened, calling jihad "obligatory worship" and pledging no let-up in attacks.