Mother of captive American issues appeal

22 02 2009

21 Feb 2009, 1730 hrs IST, AP
Source: Times of India

QUETTA: The mother of an American kidnapped in Pakistan appealed for his freedom in a message released on Saturday, describing her son as a “verygentle person” devoted to his humanitarian work.Rose Solecki asked for help from the people of southwest Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, where her son John Solecki was serving as the head of the regional UN refugee office when he was taken captive Feb. 2. The UN has been trying to establish contact with the kidnappers, who have threatened to kill John Solecki.

The kidnapping has underlined the overall deteriorating security situation in nuclear-armed Pakistan, which is battling al-Qaida and Taliban-led militants in its northwest. In her message, Rose Solecki expressed bewilderment at her son’s predicament.”I simply do not understand why this is happening to our dear John,” said Rose Solecki, 83. “I cannot begin to explain the sorrows and pain that I am going through right now. My husband and I are old. We want to be with John again.

We cannot bear losing John.”The audio message was released through the United Nations along with a photo of Solecki and his parents.The UN has said the matter is very urgent because Solecki has a medical condition. In a 20-second clip released by his kidnappers on Feb. 13, a blindfolded Solecki said he was “sick and in trouble.”Rose Solecki noted that she and her 91-year-old husband Ralph are both archaeologists and that she had lived in Baluchistan many years before. The couple visited their son in the provincial capital of Quetta last year, she said.”This recent happy memory quickly turned into a nightmare,” she said. “To our friends in Baluchistan, please help us find John and have him returned safely to his family, friends and colleagues.

John has helped many people in Baluchistan, and now my son needs your help.”In the Feb. 13 message, Solecki’s captors threatened to kill him within 72 hours, but later said they would extend the deadline for a “few days.” It was unclear exactly when the new deadline would expire.The kidnappers have identified themselves as the previously unknown Baluchistan Liberation United Front. The name indicates the group is more likely linked to separatists than to Islamists. The kidnappers have demanded the release of 141 women allegedly held in Pakistan, but Pakistani officials have said no such group of women are being held.Earlier Saturday, a suspected Shiite gunmen killed two members of the rival Sunni Muslim sect in the northwest city of Dera Ismail Khan, police said, a day after a suicide bombing at a Shiite leader’s funeral killed 36 and set off sectarian riots.

Three other Sunnis were wounded Saturday when the gunmen rode by a market on a motorbike and fired, area police chief Miran Shah said.The attack occurred despite the presence of troops sent to patrol the city after Friday’s suicide attack at a funeral where about 1,000 people had gathered to mourn Sher Zeman, a local Shiite leader gunned down the day before.After the bombing, angry Shiites fired on police and a public bus was torched. Three people were shot dead in the melee, officials said. A mass funeral was planned Saturday for victims of the Friday bombing, which also wounded more than 60.Extremists from the majority Sunni community view Shiites as heretics, and the two groups have long engaged in tit-for-tat killings in Pakistan. Attacks have increased in recent years along with violence by al-Qaida and the Taliban, which are also Sunni groups.Taliban-led militants have seized control of pockets of northwest Pakistan despite military offensives and analysts say they are likely directing or supporting the sectarian violence.

On Monday, Pakistan announced it would agree to the imposition of Islamic law in the northwest’s restive Swat Valley as part of a deal aimed at restoring peace there. The pact was spearheaded by hard-line cleric Sufi Mohammed who is negotiating with the Taliban in the valley to give up their arms.The government has rejected criticism that the pact would create a Taliban sanctuary less than 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the capital, Islamabad. But US and European officials are worried the deal could be a major concession giving the Taliban a safe haven.

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Suicide blast kills 30 at Pakistan Shiite funeral

20 02 2009

Source: AFP
54 minutes ago
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) — A suicide bomber attacked a funeral procession for an assassinated local Shiite Muslim leader in northwest Pakistan on Friday, killing 30 people and putting furious mobs on the rampage.
The explosion took place near a Shiite mosque in Dera Ismail Khan, a town on the edge of Pakistan’s restive tribal areas with a history of sectarian violence, which has been on the rise in the Sunni-majority country.
“Thirty people have died and 65 are injured,” Saadullah Khan, a police official in the town, told AFP by telephone.
Hospital and police officials earlier put the death toll at 20, with dozens of others wounded. Police said the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber.
Soldiers were ordered to deploy and a curfew enforced after intense volleys of gunfire from panicked mourners at the funeral for the late Sher Zaman degenerated into angry riots.
The attack came two weeks after 35 people died in a suspected suicide bombing against Shiite worshippers in the Punjab town of Dera Ghazi Khan on February 5 in one of the country’s deadliest sectarian attacks.
Around 90 people have been killed in suicide and bomb attacks across Pakistan so far this year and more than 1,600 since government forces besieged militants holed up in a radical mosque in Islamabad in July 2007.
Much of the violence has been concentrated in northwest Pakistan, where the army has been bogged down fighting Taliban hardliners and Al-Qaeda extremists, who fled there after the 2001 US-led invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan.
In Dera Ismail Khan, mobs pumped bullets into the air, pelted stones at cars, ransacked shops, torched buses and set up road blocks with burning tyres in the dusty, low-rise town, residents told AFP by telephone from the town.
“A curfew has been imposed in the city,” district administration chief Syed Mohsin Shah told AFP.
“The military has been called in to support police for restoration of law and order,” he said.
Zaman, the local Shiite activist who was being buried on Friday, was shot dead by unknown gunmen riding on the back of a motorbike in a busy Dera Ismail Khan market on Thursday, a local police official said.
He had been a prominent member of the town’s Shiite community and organised community gatherings, police said.
Previously, an explosion ripped through a Sunni Muslim mosque on February 3, killing one person and wounding 18 others in Dera Ismail KHan.
Shiites account for about 20 percent of Pakistan’s 160-million-strong population.
The fellow Muslims usually coexist peacefully but sectarian violence has killed more than 4,000 people across Pakistan since the late 1980s.