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At least 32 killed as Afghan bus hits ‘Taliban’ bomb

A wounded person is transported on a stretcher after the bus hit a roadside bomb [Hoshang Hashimi/AFP]
A wounded person is transported on a stretcher after the bus hit a roadside bomb [Hoshang Hashimi/AFP]

Dozens of civilians, mainly women and children, were killed in western Afghanistan on Wednesday when the bus they were travelling on hit an improvised explosive device.

The passenger bus travelling on the Kandahar-Herat highway struck a “Taliban roadside bomb” and at least 32 people were killed and 17 wounded, said Muhibullah Muhib, the spokesman for Farah province.

“The bomb was freshly planted by the Taliban insurgents to target Afghan and foreign security forces,” he said, adding all victims were civilians, mostly women and children.

Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Afghan presidency, put the death toll slightly higher at 34, also blaming it on the Taliban.

No immediate confirmation from the group was given that it was behind the blast. Taliban fighters operate in the region and frequently use roadside bombs to target government officials and security forces.

Security has been deteriorating across Afghanistan with the Taliban and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant fighters mounting near-daily attacks on Afghan forces, government employees, and civilians.

Civilian bloodshed

The blast came one day after the United Nations said civilians were being killed and wounded at a “shocking” level in Afghanistan’s war, despite a push to end the nearly 18-year-old conflict.

Casualties have dropped 27 percent in the first half of 2019 compared to the same period last year, which was a record, but nonetheless, 1,366 civilians were killed and another 2,446 injured. The UN branded efforts to reduce the violence “insufficient”.

It also said that United States and pro-government forces caused more civilian deaths than the Taliban and other armed groups for the second quarter running.

Child casualties represented almost one-third of the overall total of civilian casualties.

The bloodshed comes amid a months-long, US-led push to forge a peace deal with the Taliban that would see foreign forces quit the country in return for various security guarantees.

Graphic content / An injured Afghan man is transported on a stretcher after being injured when a bus hit a roadside bomb on the Kandahar-Herat highway, at a hospital in Herat on July 31, 2019. - Dozen
Dozens of passengers were killed in western Afghanistan early Wednesday [Hoshang Hashimi/AFP]


Two US Soldiers Killed In Afghanistan


At least two US Army soldiers were killed in an apparent insider attack in Afghanistan on Monday, US military said.

The US military has not released any other details on the attack, saying it is awaiting next of kin notification.

In a statement, the Taliban said an Afghan soldier fired his gun, killing four US soldiers and wounding two others in Shah Wali Kot district of southern province of Kandahar.

The soldier was also killed in exchange fire.

No other information was provided in the short press release sent out Monday afternoon by NATO’s Resolute Support headquarters, which oversees the train, advise and assist mission in the country.

4 people working for Canadian firm abducted in eastern Congo


KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — An official in Congo says that four people, including two expatriates, working for the Canadian gold mining company Banro were abducted last week in the southern Maniema province of eastern Congo.

Army spokesman for South Kivu province Capt. Dieudonne Kasereka said Monday that a South African, a Zimbabwean and two Congolese were taken on Friday and it is suspected that the kidnappings were carried out by Mai-Mai rebels who operate in that area.

He said the army is searching for the victims and three people have already been arrested on suspicion of assisting the kidnappers. He said that so far no ransom has been demanded by the kidnappers.

The Namoya area is rich in gold deposits and is often attacked by Mai-Mai militia. In March 2017, five workers, including one Frenchman, were kidnapped before being released two months later. Due to growing insecurity, the Banro company’s factory has been shut down for about four months.

Libyan MP and rights campaigner dragged away by masked gunmen after criticising warlord: ‘Don’t cross the line of the army’

The MP, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology from London University, lived in the UK for a number of years

The MP, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology from London University, lived in the UK for a number of years ( Seham Sergiwa/Facebook )

Concerns are growing over the fate of a prominent MP and women’s rights campaigner in Libya, who has been kidnapped after criticising Khalifa Haftar, the strongman who has been a central and controversial figure in the country’s violent strife.

Seham Sergiwa was dragged away by masked gunmen from her home in Benghazi the day after appearing on a television programme in which she criticised the offensive launched on the capital, Tripoli, by forces led by General Haftar.

The MP’s husband, Ali, and 14-year-old son Fadi were shot after being beaten up in the attack in the early hours of the morning 12 days ago. They have received emergency treatment at a hospital, but there has been no news about what has happened to Ms Sergiwa.

The violent abduction of Ms Sergiwa, who was educated in London and lived in Britain for a number of years, has been condemned by the House of Representatives in Tobruk, of which she is a member, and the United Nations. Relatives who live in America have asked the US government for assistance in getting her released and sent a plea to international organisations for information.

Opponents of Gen Haftar say they hold him responsible for what has happened to Ms Sergiwa. They point out that witnesses saw fighters of the 106th Brigade, also known as Awlia Aldem, which serves with his Libyan National Army, storm into the house and take her away.

People close to the general have refuted the charges. A former paramilitary leader now serving under him said: “We have heard reports of this, but if these men were masked, how can anyone say who they belonged to? You shouldn’t believe everything you hear knowing this country, there is a war against terrorists and the situation is very confusing. The army should not be blamed.”

Tarek El-Kharraz, a spokesman for the Benghazi-based administration in Libya, set up in opposition to the UN-backed government in the capital, said an investigation has been launched, but insisted that Gen Haftar’s forces were not responsible for the attack on the MP’s home.

The general, whose international backers include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE and Russia, recently launched an assault on Tripoli, with, it has been claimed, the tacit backing of some members of the Trump administration.

Ms Sergiwa is a vocal member of the House of Representatives. She had been among a group of MPs who publicly urged Gen Haftar two months ago to end his military operations against the UN backed Government of National Accord (GNA).

The day before her abduction of Ms Sergiwa had given an interview to a Haftar-supporting television channel, Al Hadath, based in Cairo. She deplored the general’s offensive on the capital and called for a unity government of all groups, including ones adhering to the Muslim Brotherhood, to form a government of national unity.

Responding to the interviewer’s claim that the Brotherhood had links with al-Qaeda and Isis, Ms Sergewa said: “Don’t you also have extremists on the other side supporting the Libya National Army? Even the extremists on the other side have the right to participate.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is bitterly opposed to some of Gen Haftar’s backers including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE. There is no suggestion that the governments of any of these countries was involved in, or had knowledge of, the abduction.

The MP’s claims about extremists in the ranks of Gen Haftar’s forces had particularly enraged his supporters, according to Libyan sources. The kidnappers had sprayed “Don’t cross the line of the army” on the walls of her house before they left.

The message sprayed by the kidnappers reads: ‘Don’t cross the line of the army’ (Seham Sergiwa/Facebook)

A resident in the neighbourhood, who did not wish to be named because of fear of retribution said: “We saw the sign, they don’t care who knows, it’s a warning and we are very careful.”

Ms Sergiwa, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology from London University, lived in the UK for a number of years before returning to Libya prior to the revolution which overthrew Muammar Gaddafi.

She was a member of the protest movement from the early days and, after the fall of the regime, investigated the use of rape as an instrument of war during the conflict. Becoming involved in politics, Ms Sergiwa was elected in Libya’s parliamentary elections in 2014 – getting more popular votes than any of the male candidates in Benghazi.

Benghazi, the birthplace of the revolution, was the scene of the assassination five years ago of Salwa Bugaighis, a renowned female activist who had been an internationally recognised face of the protests, by gunmen who stormed her home. Three weeks later gunmen shot dead Fariha al-Barkawi, another women’s rights campaigner who had strongly condemned Ms Bugaighis’s murder, in the nearby city of Darna.

Ms Sergiwa’s niece Nicole Sergiwa, who lives in Chicago said: “We are desperate to find out what has happened to her, that she is alright. We are hoping that she will be freed soon. But, of course, every day that goes by adds to the worry, we need to know she’s still alive. We have contacted members of congress in Illinois where I live and Indiana, where my parents live, and also the State Department. Hopefully they can do something to help her.”

In a public appeal for assistance, she and her father, the MP’s brother Adam Sergiwa, said that members of the family had recognised those who stormed the house as members of Gen Haftar’s forces.

“Fadi  was playing computer games late that night when he saw five vehicles pull up. He recognised the vehicles as belonging to Haftar’s 106th Brigade … We know that Seham was alive when she was taken. The men were masked but not afraid to claim who they were with: they graffitied ‘The army is a red line’,” they said in a statement.

“Ali and Fadi were in the hospital for days, with no visitors allowed. Family members attempted to visit on multiple occasions and were turned away. Fadi has been discharged and is now in the custody of his uncle, and Ali was permitted his first family visit in hospital. We have not heard anything from Seham since her abduction.

“Haftar and his militia’s actions are destabilising Libya and surrounding regions. The targeting of a democratically elected person is symbolic of the continuing crisis and their destabilisation.

“The silencing of women and democracy in favour of dictatorship is so wrong and should not be tolerated. Above all, Seham is not only a politician, but a mother, daughter, sister, and wife. We desperately want to welcome her home alive.”

The UN Support Mission in Libya stated it wanted to voice its concern over Ms Sergiwa’s disappearance and called on Libyan authorities to investigate the matter, warning against “unlawful arrest and abduction based on political views”.

The House of Representatives in Tobruk called on the “executive authorities, the elders and dignitaries, and civil society organisations in Benghazi to not spare any effort to ensure the safety and speedy release of Ms Sergiwa, and to protect her against any potential abuse that she might be subjected to”.

It added: “We hold Khalifa Haftar fully responsible, legally and morally, for the abduction of Ms Sergiwa, for jeopardising her life, and for the failure to protect her and all citizens regardless of their opinions.

“We call on the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, the presidency and members of the Arab parliament, the presidency and members of the European parliament, the presidency of the Maghreb Union, the presidency of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, as well as human rights and humanitarian organisations to make every effort to secure the prompt release of Ms Sergiwa and her safe return to her family.”