Islamists cancel Wootton Bassett protest plans

A radical Islamic group has cancelled plans to hold an anti-war march through a town famous for honouring the UK’s servicemen and women killed abroad.
Members of Islam4UK had planned to march through Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire, to honour Muslims killed in the Afghanistan conflict.
The government had been considering outlawing the group, which is said to have extremist links.
Earlier this week, Gordon Brown said plans for the march were “disgusting”.
Families of soldiers who died in Afghanistan had condemned the planned march, and MPs signed a motion calling on the home secretary and local authorities to prevent the protest.
Wootton Bassett has become the focus of public mourning, with hundreds lining the streets every time hearses carrying the repatriated bodies of killed UK service personnel are driven through the town from nearby RAF Lyneham.

‘Maximum publicity’
On Sunday, a statement from Islam4UK’s leader, Anjem Choudary, said it had “successfully highlighted the plight of Muslims in Afghanistan”.
“We at Islam4UK have decided, after consultation with others including our Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, that no more could be achieved even if a procession were to take place in Wootton Bassett,” he said.
The group denied members had planned to carry 500 empty coffins through the town.
Islam4UK had previously said it had chosen Wootton Bassett to create maximum publicity.
The News of the World reported on Sunday that Home Secretary Alan Johnson would outlaw the group on Monday.
The newspaper said comments made by senior members of Islam4UK and on websites breached the Terrorism Act.
A Home Office spokesman said the final decision on whether to ban the group rested with Mr Johnson but he would not confirm the plan.
“Proscription is a tough but necessary power to tackle terrorism,” he said. “Decisions on proscription must be proportionate and based on evidence that a group is concerned in terrorism as defined in the Terrorism Act 2000.”
North Wiltshire MP James Gray said he was “extremely glad” Islam4UK had abandoned its plans, and he also condemned Mr Choudary’s actions as a “media stunt”.
“He was trying to make a political statement, the whole announcement was to get media coverage – he admitted that himself – and he achieved it. He received lots of coverage,” he said.
Mohammed Shafiq, from the Ramadhan Foundation, said Mr Choudary had been deliberately provocative.
“His attempt to demonstrate at Wootton Bassett was set out to provoke hatred between communities and is not welcomed in the Muslim communities,” he said.
“He and his cronies have no support in the British Muslim communities.”

Pakistan volleyball attack

The toll from a suicide attack on a volleyball match in north-west Pakistan has continued to rise, as rescuers searched for bodies at the scene.
Ninety-three people are confirmed dead after the bombing in Lakki Marwat, and daylight has exposed the true horror, says a BBC correspondent.
Police say old people and children were watching the game when the bomber drove his vehicle onto the field.
It was the deadliest attack since a Peshawar bombing in October killed 120.
More than 600 people have died in militant attacks in Pakistan since the beginning of October, most of them believed to be in reprisal for the Pakistan army’s new campaign against the Taliban.

Unusual target
An attack on a sporting event is unusual, and no group has admitted the blast, but analysts say that is not uncommon when large numbers of civilians are killed.
Police say it may have been retaliation for attempts by Lakki Marwat residents to get rid of militants.
“Locals set up a militia and expelled the militants from this area. This attack seems to be a reaction to their expulsion,” district police chief Ayub Khan told AFP news agency.
The BBC’s Aleem Maqbool reports from Islamabad that among those killed are believed to be members of a local peace committee who have been campaigning for an end to the violence.
Mushtaq Marwat, a member of the group, told Pakistan’s Geo TV that the attack occurred as the committee was meeting in a nearby mosque.
Body parts remained strewn across the field on Saturday morning and emergency services were still searching the rubble of surrounding buildings destroyed in the attack.
On Friday evening, one witness described people using vehicle headlights to search for victims in the dark.

One man who was injured in the explosion said: “All the people had gathered together watching [the game], when suddenly a [Mitsubishi] Pajero came in the middle of the field and blew up.”
“Suddenly there was a huge blast. We went out and saw bodies and injured people everywhere,” he said.
The military have been deployed to help local authorities with the clear-up operation.
Lakki Marwat is near North and South Waziristan, which form a lethal militant belt from where insurgents have launched attacks across north-west Pakistan, as well as into parts of eastern Afghanistan.
Our correspondent says it had been feared that while the army was congratulating itself on its campaign, militants had simply escaped to neighbouring areas such as the one where Friday’s attack happened.
On Saturday, security was beefed up as a precaution for a boxing tournament in Karachi, featuring teams from India and China.
A bombing that left at least 43 people dead at a Shia Muslim march in the city last Monday has been claimed by the Taliban.
A general strike was held in Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial capital, on Friday in protest at the attack, and the riots that followed.

The Pakistani army’s operation in South Waziristan, which began in October, was billed as the turning point in the country’s fight against the Taliban.
The military says things have gone extremely well, and that it now controls most of that former Taliban stronghold.
But the period since the offensive started has coincided with a massive upsurge in militant attacks that has now claimed the lives of over 600 people right across the country.
The government says the hitting of soft civilian targets, as the one in Lakki Marwat, is proof that the militants are getting desperate, and know the authorities have the upper hand. Most Pakistanis will be unconvinced of that.

Bomb attack on Shia march in Pakistani city of Karachi

At least 20 people have been killed and dozens injured in a suicide bomb attack on a Shia Muslim march in the Pakistani city of Karachi, officials say.
There are reports of violence across the city as irate marchers turned their anger on security forces and ambulance workers in the aftermath of the blast.
Hundreds of people had been part of the procession at the time of the blast.
Pakistan’s security forces have been on high alert as Muslims have been marking the holy day of Ashura.
On Sunday eight people were killed when a suicide bomber attacked a Shia march in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Television footage showed a large plume of smoke over the site of the blast in Karachi and ambulances rushing to and from the scene.

Stringent security
The BBC’s Aleem Maqbool says an incident like this had been feared by the authorities. Stringent security measures had been put in place across the country over the last month.
These processions have been occurring in cities around Pakistan as Muslims mark the holy month of Moharram or Ashura – and there have been numerous attacks on them over the last few days, our correspondent says.
Today was the climax of the holy period, which commemorates the death of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed in bomb attacks in recent months as Pakistan’s army pursues an offensive against Taliban militants in South Waziristan and surrounding areas.
Pakistan also has a long history of violence between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Pakistan militants kill official and family members

Militants in Pakistan have blown up the house of a local official, killing him and five members of his family.
Sarbraz Saddiqi, a government official in Kurram district, his wife and four children were killed in the attack, a police official said.
Sunday morning’s attack came as the family were asleep.
No-one has admitted planting the bomb. But the police spokesman said it could be linked to a Pakistan army offensive against the Taliban in the area.
The army has captured territory in South Waziristan, a hotbed of Islamic militancy, but many insurgents are believed to have fled to nearby regions, including Kurram.

Small children killed
The attack occurred in Mosu Zai village, about 200km (125 miles) from the north-western city of Peshawar.
“Unknown miscreants planted dynamite around the house and exploded it between 0200 (2100 GMT) and 0300 and the house was destroyed,” Abab Ali, a local official told AFP news agency.
“Those killed were aged five to 11,” he said.
“We don’t know whether the Taliban, terrorists or Shias were responsible,” Mr Ali said.
But police officer Naeemullah Khan said the attack appeared to be linked to the army’s efforts against the Taliban militants in the area.

Blast in Pakistan-administered Kashmir kills five

A suspected suicide bomb attack on a Shia Muslim gathering in Pakistan-administered Kashmir has left five people dead, officials say.
The blast in Muzaffarabad came as Shia Muslims commemorated the festival of Ashura that mourns the 7th-Century death of Imam Hussein.
More than 60 people were reported to have been injured in the blast.
Pakistan’s security forces were on high alert fearing sectarian clashes between Shia and Sunni Muslims.
The attacker detonated his explosives as police tried to search him at a checkpoint set up outside the gathering, a police spokesman told the Associated Press news agency.

Pakistani eunuchs to have distinct gender

Eunuchs are seen as social outcasts by Pakistan's largely conservative society

Pakistan’s Supreme Court says eunuchs must be allowed to identify themselves as a distinct gender in order to ensure their rights.
The eunuchs, known as “hijras” in Pakistan, are men castrated at an early age for medical or social reasons.
The court said they should be issued with national identity cards showing their distinct gender.
The government has also been ordered to take steps to ensure they are entitled to inherit property.
‘Respect and identity’
There are estimated to be about 300,000 hijras in Pakistan and they are generally shunned by the largely Muslim conservative society.
They tend to live together in slum communities, surviving through begging and by dancing at weddings and carnivals.
A hijra association has welcomed the order, saying it is “a major step giving respect and identity in society”.
Indian authorities last month agreed to list eunuchs and transgender people by using the term “others”, distinct from males and females, on electoral rolls and voter identity cards, after a long-running campaign by the members of the community.

Blast near Pakistan mosque kills four people

At least seven people have been killed in an explosion near a mosque used by police officers in north-western Pakistan, officials say.
Nearly 30 people were wounded in the explosion in Lower Dir district, said hospital officials.
The Pakistani army carried out a huge operation in the district earlier this year to flush out Taliban militants.
Tens of thousands of people in the area were displaced by the fighting in the district and adjoining Swat valley.
“The bomb blast took place inside a mosque near police headquarters. At least four people have been killed,” local police chief Mumtaz Zarin told AFP news agency.
“We are investigating the nature of the blast – that is, whether it was a suicide attack or planted bomb,” he said.
He said the “huge” explosion had struck in Taimergara town in Lower Dir.
The local district commissioner, Fazal Kareem Khatok, said the blast took place as worshippers gathered for Friday prayers.

Acts such as this demonstrate clearly that the militants are the enemies of Islam, rather than its champions, as they claim. They have never, do not, and will never, represent true Islam, a religion of peace, not violence and murder.

Pakistan Taliban offensive in S Waziristan to ‘go on’

Pakistan’s prime minister has backed down from his statement that a military offensive offensive against the Taliban in South Waziristan was over.
Yousuf Raza Gilani now says the operation is continuing and had so far brought many “successes”.
He said he was unable to provide any timeframe for when the South Waziristan operations would actually stop.
He said the operation may be extended to other parts of the tribal belt – including the northern Orakzai region.
The BBC’s correspondent in Islamabad Orla Guerin says the stage is being set for the next round against the Taliban.

Having failed to capture militant leaders in South Waziristan, Pakistan has little choice but to hunt them elsewhere, she says.
A military source has told the BBC that the army may have to hunt the militants all over the tribal belt where they are deeply entrenched. He said the fight could last for years.
Speaking in Karachi, the prime minister said his earlier televised remarks stating the operation was over may have been taken out of context, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

Mr Gilani said the current operation in South Waziristan had so far had a high success rate with “strongholds of militants” captured and a “large quantity of weapons and ammunition” recovered.
He said militants would be pursued wherever they took refuge. Many are thought to have fled to Orakzai.
The Pakistani military launched its offensive in South Waziristan, in the tribal area bordering Afghanistan, in mid-October.
The military operation in South Waziristan was the biggest in years, our correspondent says, with 30,000 troops sent into battle.
The United Nations says more than 40,000 civilians have left their homes in Orakzai and are in need of humanitarian assistance.