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Planning strikes since 2009, angry over bias: Key accused in IS plot

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New Delhi: The key accused in the alleged Islamic State module busted by NIA last week, Mufti Suhail, has told interrogators that he was planning “jihadist activities” since 2009 due to what he called “persecution of Muslims in India” but did not have the wherewithal to carry out attacks, sources said.

This is significant given that the Islamic State, although first set up as an Al Qaeda affiliate way back in 2006, hit international headlines only in 2014 when it seized territories in Syria and Iraq.

The 29-year-old Islamic preacher, who was arrested by NIA last week from his home in Jaffrabad, Delhi, told interrogators that he had been hurt by events such as the Babri Masjid demolition and believed that Muslims were discriminated against in the country. He has pointed this out as one of the reasons why Muslims do not get jobs in the country, sources said.

 

“Suhail is highly radicalised and justifies his actions. He said he had been motivated because Muslims suffer injustice in the country. He was earlier attracted to Al Qaeda and Taliban but could never approach any of them. With Islamic State recruiting online, he found a handler who guided him through his latest adventure,” an investigator said.

The officer said that Suhail appeared to be the most “motivated” in the group. “He alone was in touch with this online handler who guided him to carry out attacks in India. He, in turn, gathered friends and acquaintances who are in the age group of 20-30,” the officer said.

Investigators pointed out that this was unlike some other IS-affiliated groups busted by NIA in the past few years. “Most of those arrested earlier had plans to go to Syria or Iraq. Suhail’s concern, however, is largely India,” an investigator said.

According to the NIA, a few months ago, Suhail assumed the online identity of Abu Basir al Khurasani to trawl the Net for content related to Islamic State. He soon met an online entity named Abu Malik Peshawari on Facebook. In due course, NIA claimed, Peshawari convinced Suhail to carry out attacks in the name of the Islamic State and also became his guide. This handler is suspected to be in Afghanistan. Suhail hails from Amroha where his father was engaged in religious studies but he has hardly lived there. Over the past one and a half months, however, he began living in his ancestral home in the Moullan Mohalla of Amroha town. NIA sources said he moved there primarily to build his group which has several members from Amroha.

“He was looking to rent a place in the town to hold meetings and assemble bombs since he could not have done it at his ancestral home which is a joint family property,” the officer said.

After graduating in religious studies, which included a brief stint at the Deoband seminary, Suhail was teaching at various madrassas. He has told investigators that he was attracted to pan-Islamic ideologies of various groups and believed Muslims were persecuted across the globe.

“He talks at length about the Russian invasion of Afghanistan followed by the American assault. He has also expressed concern about Chechnya strife and the Palestinian struggle. He has said that the only solution to all these problems is establishing Islamic rule under Sharia law,” the officer said.


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International

Trump to meet Kim Jong-un again in late February: White House

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WASHINGTON: The White House announced that US President Donald Trump will hold a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in late February.

During the meeting, the two leaders will hold talks over the steps taken by Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear and missile programmes. It may be recalled that the first meeting between the two leaders was held on June 12, 2018 in Singapore. The White House, however, did not reveal where the two leaders will meet in February.

The White House made the announcement shortly after Trump held a meeting with North Korean envoy, Kim Yong Chol, on Friday for a discussion that included talk about Kim Jong-un’s unfulfilled pledge to dismantle nuclear weapons programmes of North Korea.

 

“President Donald J Trump met with Kim Yong Chol for an hour and half, to discuss denuclearization and a second summit, which will take place near the end of February. The president looks forward to meeting with Chairman Kim at a place to be announced at a later date,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

The press secretary told reporters: “We continue to make progress, we continue to have conversations. The US is going to continue to keep “pressure and sanctions” on North Korea until “we see fully and verifiable denuclearization”. We had very good steps and very good faith from the North Koreans with the release of hostages and other moves and so we’ll continue this conversation.And the President looks forward to it next February.”

Kim yong Chol arrived at the White House after meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun at a hotel in Washington.

“The Secretary, Special Representative Biegun, and Vice Chairman Kim discussed efforts to make progress on the commitments President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un made at their summit in Singapore. At the conclusion of the Secretary’s meeting with Vice Chairman Kim, the two sides held a productive first meeting at the working level,” State Department Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino said.

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Blast targets Al Qaeda ally in Syria, kills 11

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BEIRUT: An explosion outside an office belonging to an Al Qaeda-linked group in Syria’s northwest killed at least 11 people and wounded several others, opposition activists said.

The blast comes a week after members of the Al Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee, or HTS, took over control of wide parts of Idlib province and the surrounding countryside after forcing rival insurgents to accept a deal for a civil administration run by HTS in their areas.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Smart news agency, an activist collective, said the blast occurred on the southern edge of the rebel-held city of Idlib.

 

The observatory said 11 people were killed in the blast, including seven HTS members. Smart said 12 people were killed, many of them militants.

In the country’s east, an air strike in the last area held by the militant Islamic State group killed at least 20 people.

State news agency SANA said 20 people were killed in the air strike on the IS-held village of Baghouz, while the observatory said 23 people were killed including 10 IS members.

They both blamed the US-led coalition that has been providing air cover to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in their monthslong offensive to capture the area from extremists near the Iraqi border.

The SDF has intensified its offensive over the past weeks on the IS-held area.

Meanwhile in Turkey, President Tayyip Erdogan met with US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham to discuss the situation in Syria as the United States prepares to withdraw troops.

Graham, a prominent voice on foreign affairs in the US, met with Erdogan and other Turkish officials on Friday for talks that were also expected to include a proposal for the creation of a “safe zone” in northeast Syria.

The visit comes days after a suicide bombing, claimed by IS, killed two US service members and two American civilians in the northeastern town of Manbij.

Graham has said he is concerned that US President Donald Trump’s troop withdrawal announcement had emboldened IS militants and created dangerous uncertainty for American allies.

The Pentagon identified three of the four Americans killed in the suicide bomb attack in Manbij Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R. Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida, who was based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Shannon M. Kent, 35, from upstate New York and based at Fort Meade, Maryland; and a civilian, Scott A. Wirtz, from St. Louis.

The Pentagon hasn’t identified the fourth casualty, a civilian contractor.

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Pakistan rules out India’s role in Afghan peace process

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Islamabad: Pakistan has ruled out any role for India in the Afghan peace process, the media reported on Friday.

“India has no role in Afghanistan,” Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal said at the weekly media briefing on Thursday while responding to a query about Islamabad’s position on New Delhi’s part in the reconciliation process.

Faisal acknowledged that Pakistan has a difficult relationship with India, saying that despite Pakistan’s efforts for normalisation, no concrete progress could be achieved in ties with India, Dawn news reported.

 

“You all know that India is not willing to engage with Pakistan,” he reminded.

Faisal’s remarks were in sharp contrast to what Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had told the National Assembly last month.

“Since India is present in Afghanistan, its cooperation in this regard (facilitating a negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict) will also be required,” he had told legislators.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump’s Special Envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Pakistan on Thursday to discuss with the senior civil and military leadership the latest efforts to bring peace to the war-torn country.

Khalilzad, who met Taliban representatives last month in Abu Dhabi, is leading an inter-agency delegation to India, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan from January 8-21 to “facilitate a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan”.

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