Kabul, Oct 19 (AP/UNB) — A high-level meeting on security plans for Afghanistan's parliamentary elections had just concluded when an elite Afghan guard turned his gun on the departing delegation Thursday, killing the powerful Kandahar police chief but missing the top U.S. commander in the country, Gen. Scott Miller.
At least one other senior Afghan official was killed in the audacious assassination strike that was claimed by the Taliban and underscored the harrowing insecurity in Afghanistan two days before the elections and more than 17 years after the militant group was driven from power. A Taliban spokesman said Miller was the intended target.
However, Army Col. David Butler, who attended the meeting with Miller, said the powerful Kandahar police chief, Abdul Raziq, was clearly the target, not the U.S. general.
"It was pretty clear he was shooting at Raziq," Butler told The Associated Press, adding that Miller was nearby but not in the line of fire.
The delegates had just gathered for a group photo when gunfire broke out inside the provincial governor's compound in Kandahar city, according to an AP television cameraman who was there. Everyone scattered, and the U.S. participants scrambled toward their helicopter. But a firefight broke out between the U.S. service members and Afghan police when they tried to stop the U.S. delegation from reaching their helicopter, said the cameraman.
Besides Raziq, Kandahar's intelligence chief, Abdul Mohmin was killed in the attack, according to deputy provincial governor Agha Lala Dastageri. He said Kandahar Gov. Zalmay Wesa also died after being taken to a hospital, although security officials in the capital maintained Wesa was wounded but survived.
Three Americans — a U.S. service member, a coalition contractor and an American civilian — were injured and in stable condition, said NATO spokesman U.S. Col. Knut Peters.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said the militant group carried out the attack, and Miller was the target.
Butler, however, said the assailant shot at Raziq and then appeared to spray the area with gunfire before he was killed.
He said Miller and the Afghan leaders had moved outside the palace after several hours of meetings and were standing in small groups in the compound. He said he heard several shots "and we all took cover. It was over in seconds."
"We stabilized and treated the wounded and secured the area," said Butler, adding that Miller made sure the scene was secure and the wounded were taken away by medivac before he left the area and returned to Kabul.
Razik was a particularly powerful figure in southern Kandahar and a close U.S. ally despite widespread allegations of corruption. He ruled the former Taliban heartland with an iron fist and had survived several past assassination attempts, including one last year that killed five diplomats from the United Arab Emirates.
Raziq's killing "may have major implications on the security situation in southern Afghanistan. As the chief of police in Kandahar, he has kept a lid on the Taliban's insurgency, which has intensified over the past several years," analyst Bill Roggio wrote in the Long War Journal.
The Taliban have vowed to disrupt Saturday's parliamentary elections, warning teachers and students not to allow schools to be used for polling and warning Afghans to stay away from the polls.
Within hours of the attack, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani addressed the nation to assure Kandahar residents it was safe to go to the polls. In an AP interview, his adviser, Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, said the attack was meant to disrupt elections and urged voters to defy Taliban threats, saying casting their ballot "would be a big slap on the face of the enemy."
At a news conference in Kabul, army chief Gen. Mohammad Sharif Yaftali said additional troops had been moved from neighboring Helmand province to Kandahar.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the killing of the Kandahar police chief is unlikely to fundamentally weaken the security situation. Speaking while in Singapore for a conference, Mattis called Raziq's death a tragic loss but said he believes the Afghan security forces have matured to the point where they can continue fighting the Taliban without him.
The U.N. Security Council condemned the attacks and others recently in Afghanistan and said violence or threats intended to disrupt the elections were unacceptable.
Pakistan's new prime minister, Imran Khan, and its military chief condemned the assault.
"The people and the security forces of Afghanistan have been paying a heavy price due to continued instability and threats from the enemies of peace," Khan said in a statement. "Pakistan stands by the government and the people of Afghanistan in their quest for lasting peace and stability."
Security has been steadily deteriorating in Afghanistan with increasingly brazen attacks being carried out by insurgents and Afghanistan's security forces have been on high alert ahead of Saturday's elections.
Late Wednesday, a NATO convoy was attacked near the Afghan capital, killing two civilians and injuring five Czech troops, Afghan officials and the Czech military said Thursday.
The attack in the Bagram district of Parwan province, also wounded three Afghan civilians, said Wahida Shakar, spokeswoman for the provincial governor.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in Bagram, which is the home of a sprawling U.S. military base.
In recent months, Afghan troops have come under near-daily attacks. NATO troops, which handed over security to Afghan forces at the end of 2014, mostly train and assist with air power. So far this year, eight U.S. soldiers and three other NATO service members have died in Afghanistan.
Kuala Lumpur, Oct 19 (AP/UNB) — Malaysia's former deputy prime minister has been charged with abuse of power, corruption and money laundering involving millions of dollars in another graft investigation against the leaders ousted in shock election results earlier this year.
Ahmad Zahid Hamidi now leads the opposition after his party was ousted in May's general elections. He was brought to court Friday, a day after he was detained by the anti-graft agency. He pleaded not guilty to eight counts of abusing his power, ten counts of criminal breach of trust and 27 counts of money laundering.
Former Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife also were charged with graft after the elections.
Dozens of supporters from Zahid's United Malays National Organization rallied outside the court, slamming the charges as politically motivated.
Washington, Oct 19 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump acknowledged Thursday it "certainly looks" as though missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead, and he threatened "very severe" consequences if the Saudis are found to have murdered him. His warning came as the administration toughened its response to a disappearance that has sparked global outrage.
Before Trump spoke, the administration announced that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had pulled out of a major upcoming Saudi investment conference and a U.S. official said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had warned the Saudi crown prince that his credibility as a future leader is at stake.
Pompeo said the Saudis should be given a few more days to finish and make public a credible investigation before the U.S. decides "how or if" to respond. Trump's comments, however, signaled an urgency in completing the probe into the disappearance of the journalist, last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
The messaging underscored the administration's concern about the effect the case could have on relations with a close and valuable strategic partner. Increasingly upset U.S. lawmakers are condemning the Saudis and questioning the seriousness with which Trump and his top aides are taking the matter, while Trump has emphasized the billions of dollars in weapons the Saudis purchase from the United States.
Turkish reports say Khashoggi, who had written columns critical of the Saudi government for The Washington Post over the past year while he lived in self-imposed exile in the U.S., was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul by members of an assassination squad with ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudis have dismissed those reports as baseless but have yet to explain what happened to the writer.
Trump, who has insisted that more facts must be known before making assumptions, did not say on what he based his latest statement about the writer's likely demise.
Asked if Khashoggi was dead, he said, "It certainly looks that way. ... Very sad."
Asked what consequence Saudi leaders would face if they are found to be responsible, he replied: "It will have to be very severe. It's bad, bad stuff. But we'll see what happens."
Vice President Mike Pence said earlier in Colorado that "the world deserves answers" about what happened to Khashoggi, "and those who are responsible need to be held to account."
In Istanbul, a leaked surveillance photo showed a man who has been a member of the crown prince's entourage during trips abroad walking into the Saudi Consulate just before Khashoggi vanished there — timing that drew the kingdom's heir-apparent closer to the columnist's apparent demise.
Turkish officials say Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb flew into Istanbul on a private jet along with an "autopsy expert" Oct. 2 and left that night.
In Washington, Pompeo, who was just back from talks with Saudi and Turkish leaders, said of the investigations in Istanbul:
"I told President Trump this morning that we ought to give them a few more days to complete that so that we, too, have a complete understanding of the facts surrounding that, at which point we can make decisions about how, or if, the United States should respond to the incident surrounding Mr. Khashoggi."
Although Pompeo suggested the U.S. could wait longer for results, an official familiar with his meetings in Riyadh and Ankara said the secretary had been blunt about the need to wrap the probe up quickly.
The official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss details of the private meetings and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Pompeo told the crown prince that "time is short." The official added Pompeo had warned him that it would be "very difficult for you to be a credible king" without a credible investigation. The prince is next in line for the throne held by his aged father King Salman.
Shortly after Trump and Pompeo met at the White House, Mnuchin announced that after consulting the president and his top diplomat "I will not be participating in the Future Investment Initiative summit in Saudi Arabia."
The Saudis had hoped to use the forum, billed as "Davos in the Desert," to boost their global image. But a number of European finance ministers and many top business executives have pulled out as international pressure on Riyadh has intensified over Khashoggi.
Pompeo said that whatever response the administration might decide on would take into account the importance of the long-standing U.S.-Saudi partnership. He said, "They're an important strategic ally of the United States, and we need to be mindful of that."
United Nations, Oct 19 (AP/UNB) — The head of Israel's leading human rights group strongly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government during a contentious U.N. Security Council meeting on Thursday for what he called its "supremacy and oppression" of the Palestinians.
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon responded, accusing Hagai El-Ad, director of B'Tselem, of staging "a circus" in the council and then in Hebrew telling him: "Shame on you! You are a collaborator!"
That drew a rebuke from Britain's U.N. Ambassador Karen Pierce who complained that council members could not understand Danon's remarks in Hebrew, which is not one of the U.N.'s official languages. AP obtained a translation after the council meeting.
B'Tselem opposes Israeli settlements in the West Bank and has documented abuses committed by Israeli soldiers, sparking accusations of treason by Israeli hardliners. The rights group has also angered Israeli leaders because it accepts funding from foreign donors including the European Commission and because it airs its criticism in international venues like the United Nations.
Netanyahu told a recent meeting with Christian media outlets that he defined B'Tselem as "a disgrace."
El-Ad was invited to address the U.N.'s most powerful body by Bolivia, which holds the Security Council presidency this month, and he used his speech to decry "the indignity, the outrage, the pain of the people denied human rights for more than 50 years."
He described how Israel is fragmenting Palestinian land, separating Gaza from the West Bank, walling off east Jerusalem which the Palestinians want as their future capital, and how Israeli courts legalize demolitions of Palestinian homes and the relocation of people.
The Israeli government is "quite expert at constructing this facade of legality which has been very successful at allowing us not to have to deal with any international consequences," El-Ad said. And this has enabled Israel to continue "oppressing millions while it somehow is still being considered a democracy."
He said ongoing efforts to legislate against Israeli human rights organizations "now go hand-in-hand with the routine in which opposition to the occupation is being equated with treason."
"So to president Netanyahu I say this: You will never silence us, nor the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who reject a present founded on supremacy and oppression and stand for a future built on equality, freedom and human rights," El-Ad said.
El-Ad urged the world to "let Israel know that it will no longer stand idly by, that it will take action against the continued dismantling of the Palestinian people."
Israel's Danon said B'Tselem was invited by Bolivia, "a country with a terrible human rights record to defame our strong democracy — but it actually had the opposite effect" and proved "the strength of Israel's vibrant democracy."
"I challenge you all, all of you, to find a Palestinian or a Bolivian who could dare defame his government at the Security Council," Danon said. "At best he might be thrown in jail but he would more likely end up dead."
Danon then accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of inspiring a "rampant culture of hate" during his 13 years in office and "enabling an imminent war" between Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Israel.
"Far from a peace partner, Mahmoud Abbas is the obstacle for peace," he said.
Bolivia's deputy U.N. Ambassador Veronica Cordova Soria, who presided over the meeting, had a message for El-Ad when she spoke.
"On behalf of this council I want to apologize for the way he was mistreated today," she told members. "We're not here to discuss Bolivia's human rights."
Brussels, Oct 18 (AP/UNB) — British Prime Minister Theresa May came under attack from across Britain's political spectrum Thursday after saying she's considering a European Union proposal that would keep the U.K. bound to the bloc's rules for more than two years after it leaves in March.
Seeking to unblock Britain's stalled divorce talks with the EU, May said a proposed 21-month transition period for the U.K. after Brexit could be extended by "a matter of months."
At present, the two sides say Britain will remain inside the EU single market, and subject to the bloc's regulations, from the day it leaves on March 29 until December 2020, to give time for new trade relations to be set up.
But with Brexit talks at an impasse, the bloc has suggested extending that period, to give more time to strike a trade deal that ensures the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland remains friction-free — the main sticking point to a Brexit deal.
May said the U.K. was considering an extension of several months. But she said the extra time was merely an insurance policy and was unlikely to be needed.
"We are working to ensure that we have that future relationship in place by the end of December 2020," May said as she arrived Thursday at EU headquarters in Brussels for meetings on migration, security and other issues.
The extension idea angered pro-Brexit U.K. politicians, who saw it as an attempt to bind Britain to the bloc indefinitely.
In an open letter Thursday to May, leading Brexiteers accused the EU of "bullying" and said the border issue was being used as "a trap" by the bloc. The letter signed by former British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, ex-Brexit Secretary David Davis and other pro-Brexit Conservatives warned May not to "engage in a show of resistance and a choreographed argument followed by surrender" to the EU.
Pro-EU politicians, meanwhile, said the proposal was another sign of May's weak bargaining hand and an attempt to stall for time. Liberal Democrat lawmaker Tom Brake said May was merely "kicking the can further down the road."
Divorce talks between Britain and the bloc have stalled on the issue of the Irish border, which will be the U.K's only land frontier with the EU after Brexit. Both sides agree there must be no hard border that could disrupt businesses and residents on both sides and undermine Northern Ireland's hard-won peace process. But each has rejected the other side's solution.
The EU says the solution is to keep Northern Ireland inside a customs union with the bloc, but Britain rejects that because it would mean customs checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.
Britain has proposed instead that all of the U.K. could stay in a customs union — but only temporarily. The EU insists there can be no time limit.
The two sides remain deadlocked, and this week's summit, which had been billed as a make-or-break moment, turned simply into a chance for Britain and the EU to give themselves more time — perhaps until the end of the year — to break the logjam.
May urged both parties to show "courage, trust and leadership," but came to Brussels without the concrete new proposals the EU has asked for. Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said "we need much time, much more time, and we continue to work in the next weeks."
The lack of progress means a special EU summit on Brexit that had been penciled in for next month has been scrapped, though EU leaders said they would assess the situation later.
The next official EU summit is scheduled for December, just over 3 1/2 months before Britain ceases to be an EU member. Any deal that is struck needs time to be approved by the British and European Parliaments.
Conservative lawmaker Nick Boles said there was a growing worry among many U.K. legislators that Britain and the EU are "trying to run out the clock" in order to stymie opposition to their plans.
"They are trying to leave this so late that they can credibly say there is no alternative but a 'no-deal' Brexit, and most people agree that would be chaos," Boles told the BBC.