14 year old schoolgirl shot by Pakistani Taliban

Taliban gunmen in Pakistan shot and seriously wounded on Tuesday a 14-year-old schoolgirl who rose to fame for speaking out against the militants, authorities said.

Malala Yousufzai was shot in the head and neck when gunmen fired on her school bus in the Swat valley, northwest of the capital, Islamabad. Two other girls were also wounded, police said.

Yousufzai became famous for speaking out against the Pakistani Taliban at a time when even the government seemed to be appeasing the hardline Islamists.

The government agreed to a ceasefire with the Taliban in Swat in early 2009, effectively recognising insurgent control of the valley whose lakes and mountains had long been a tourist attraction.

The Taliban set up courts, executed residents and closed girls’ schools, including the one that Yousufzai attended. A documentary team filmed her weeping as she explained her ambition to be a doctor.

“My friend came to me and said, ‘for God’s sake, answer me honestly, is our school going to be attacked by the Taliban?’,” Yousufzai, then 11, wrote in a blog published by the BBC.

“During the morning assembly we were told not to wear colourful clothes as the Taliban would object.”

The army launched an offensive and retook control of Swat later that year, and Yousufzai later received the country’s highest civilian award. She was also nominated for international awards for child activists.

REUTERS

Sexy Facebook profiles used by Taliban to get military secrets from troops

This probably shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, as a lot is going in the world of the social media network with the advancement of technology the world over.

A Taliban has brought forward another eye opener that all sorts can be done with a social media network as famous social media network Facebook was used to get military secrets of the Australian troops by creating using several fake Facebook profiles with very attractive women.

According to a review of social media and defense by the Australian government, an “overt reliance” on privacy settings has led to a “false sense of security” among personnel. In other words — just because you’re a Facebook privacy ninja doesn’t mean you should go around posting military secrets on the Internet.

The tech-savvy Taliban created fake Facebook profiles using pictures of attractive women and with these fake profiles befriended Australian soldiers, gathering information based on those soldiers’ Facebook updates in the process of friending them.

A big problem, of course, is Facebook’s geo-tagging function, which logs the location from which posts or photos are uploaded. If a soldier posts something to Facebook while they’re in the field, this pretty much gives away their location.

According to News.com.au, three Australian soldiers were murdered inside their base this month, allegedly by an Afghan Army trainee.

According to the review of social media and defense, many soldiers did not realize that people using fake profiles can capture information and movements.

“Few consider the possibilities of data mining and how patterns of behaviour can be identified over time,” the review states. The review surveyed 1577 Australian Department of Defence members on their social media practices and knowledge (or lack thereof) of associated risks. Fifty-eight per cent of Defence staff reportedly had no social media training.

The Australian Department of Defence is currently working on new social media guidelines, which will be released by Christmas.

You may not be a member of the Australian military, but that doesn’t mean you should go around friending just anybody on Facebook. Fake Facebook friends and profiles have been around since the beginning of Facebook, and may be anyone from federal agents to spies to companies looking for buzz.

The obvious advice is that you shouldn’t add anyone on Facebook unless you know them in real life — hot girl or not. However, if you insist on making virtual friends over social networking platforms, here are some guidelines to keep your personal information safe:

– Add as little personal information as possible to your profile. Needless to say, your address, phone number, and date of birth (at the very least, birth year) should not be publicly available or even available to “friends only” on your profile.

– Understand how social engineers can use different pieces of information on the Internet to gather intel about you. For example, if you put your birth day and month on your Facebook profile, and you put your high school graduation year on your LinkedIn profile, a savvy social engineer will be able to put two and two together. Therefore, limit personal information as much as possible.

– If you’re on vacation (or in a secret military location), don’t post about it until after you get back (or to a safe, non-secret military location). Posting pictures and updates while you’re thousands of miles away from your home advertises that you’re…thousands of miles away from your home.

– Monitor what your friends say to you and about you on Facebook. In your Privacy settings, it’s a good idea to turn on the “review posts” feature, which lets you approve (or disapprove) posts your friends want to tag you in before they automatically appear on your timeline. To turn on this feature, go to Privacy > Timeline and Tagging > Review posts friends tag you in before they appear on your timeline, and turn it “On.”

– Be careful about what your photos say. Many smartphones automatically geo-tag photos, so it’s a good idea to turn this off, if possible. To turn off geo-tagging on an iPhone, go to Settings > Location Services > Camera, and turn the Location Services “Off” for the camera. To turn of geo-tagging on an Android phone, open up your camera, go to Camera settings > Store location, and make sure this is turned “Off.”

The easiest way to avoid this type of privacy mishap is to only friend people you actually know in real life. Still, it’s a good idea to take these precautions–after all, you never know which of your real-life Facebook friends may have left their account open on a public computer somewhere.

 

Suicide bombers kill seven after Obama leaves Afghan capital

Suicide bombers attacked a compound housing Westerners in Kabul on Wednesday hours after U.S. President Barack Obama signed a security pact during a short visit to a city that remains vulnerable to a resilient insurgency.

Afghan security forces members inspect the site of a car bomb attack in Kabul May 2, 2012. At least six people were killed in the suicide car bomb attack in the Afghan capital on Wednesday, officials said, hours after U.S. President Barack Obama left Kabul following an unannounced visit during which he signed a strategic partnership agreement.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack which involved a car bomb and insurgents disguised as women on the eastern outskirts of the capital, killing seven people, a Gurkha guard and six passers-by, and wounding 17.

The Taliban said it was in response to Obama’s visit and to the strategic partnership deal he signed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a pact that sets out a long-term U.S. role after most foreign combat troops leave by the end of 2014.

The insurgency also claimed their spring offensive, which began two weeks ago with attacks in Kabul, would be renewed on Thursday, despite a security clamp-down in the capital.

Obama’s visit came a year after U.S. special forces troops killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the architect of the September 11, 2001, attacks, in a raid in neighbouring Pakistan.

In a televised address to the American people from a base north of Kabul, he said the war in Afghanistan was winding down.

“As we emerge from a decade of conflict abroad and economic crisis at home, it’s time to renew America,” Obama said, speaking against a backdrop of armoured vehicles and a U.S. flag.

“This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end.”

Nearly 3,000 U.S. and NATO soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since the Taliban rulers were ousted in 2001.

The Taliban, overthrown by U.S.-backed Afghan forces for harbouring bin Laden and other militants, were quick to take credit for Wednesday’s attack at Green Village, one of several compounds for Westerners on a main road out of the capital.

“This attack was to make clear our reaction to Obama’s trip to Afghanistan. The message was that instead of signing a strategic partnership deal with Afghanistan, he should think about taking his troops out from Afghanistan and leave it to Afghans to rebuild their country,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

But America’s Kabul ambassador, Ryan Crocker, said involvement of the Haqqani network – which Washington believes is based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region and which it blames for high-profile attacks in Kabul in April – could not be ruled out.

On the anniversary of bin Laden’s killing, Crocker said he did not believe there would be a sole turning point in the war.

“Al Qaeda is still there. We do feel we are prevailing in this with our Afghan partners,” he said. “We cannot be in a position of taking on ourselves bringing perfection to Afghanistan. That has to be left to Afghans.”

But Crocker said there would be no repeat of the 1990s when a withdrawal of Western backers in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal unleashed a vicious civil war out of which the Taliban and al Qaeda support bases arose.

BLOOD STAINS

Hundreds of police and intelligence agency troops surrounded the area around Green Village after the attack. Ruined cars were seen in front of the compound gates but officials said no attackers made it inside the heavily-guarded complex.

“I was going to the office when the car in front of me blew up. I got on my bicycle and fled,” 40-year-old Farid Ahmad Mohammad told Reuters near the scene of the explosion.
A worker at the compound, Jamrod, said at a hospital where the wounded had been taken that he had been showing his identity card at the compound’s main gate when the vehicle exploded.

“I heard a bang and then I slammed into the wall,” Jamrod, still clad in blood-stained jeans, told Reuters.

Wednesday’s attack was the latest in a recent surge of violence after the Taliban announced they had begun their usual “spring offensive”, and since they suspended tentative steps towards peace talks with the United States.

Such incidents raise troubling questions about the readiness of Afghan forces to take over when militants remain able to stage high-profile attacks, even when already tight security had been beefed up even further for Obama’s visit.

Insurgents staged coordinated attacks in Kabul last month, paralyzing the city’s centre and diplomatic area for 18 hours.

The Taliban also claimed responsibility for those attacks, but U.S. and Afghan officials blamed the militant, al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network.

ELECTION YEAR

Obama’s visit was clearly an election-year event.

He spoke to U.S. troops during a stay in Afghanistan of roughly six hours and emphasized bin Laden’s demise, an event his re-election campaign has touted as one of his most important achievements in office.

“Not only were we able to drive al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, but slowly and systematically we have been able to decimate the ranks of al Qaeda, and a year ago we were able to finally bring Osama bin Laden to justice,” Obama said to cheers.

But even as he asserted in his speech that there was a “clear path” to fulfilling the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and made his strongest claim yet that the defeat of al Qaeda was “within reach”, he warned of further hardship ahead.

“I recognize that many Americans are tired of war … But we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan and end this war responsibly,” he said at Bagram airbase, where only months ago thousands of Afghans rioted after U.S. troops accidentally burned copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book.

That incident, and the killing of 17 Afghan civilians by a rogue U.S. soldier weeks later, plunged already tense relations to their lowest point in years.

While speaking in broad terms of “difficult days ahead”, Obama did not address some of the thorniest challenges.

These include corruption in Karzai’s government, the unsteadiness of Afghan forces in the face of a resilient Taliban insurgency, and Washington’s strained ties with Pakistan, where U.S. officials see selective cooperation in cracking down on militants fuelling cross-border violence.

Earlier, Obama met Karzai at his walled garden palace in Kabul, where they signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement. “By signing this document, we close the last 10 years and open a new season of equal relations,” Karzai said after the meeting.

The agreement does not specify whether a reduced number of U.S. troops, possibly special forces, and advisers will remain after NATO’s 2014 withdrawal deadline. That will be dealt with in a separate status-of-forces agreement still being worked out.

REUTERS

150 Afghan school girls poisoned, officials say

About 150 Afghan schoolgirls were poisoned on Tuesday after drinking contaminated water at a high school in the country’s north, officials said, blaming it on conservative radicals opposed to female education.

Since the 2001 toppling of the Taliban, which banned education for women and girls, females have returned to schools, especially in Kabul.

But periodic attacks still occur against girls, teachers and their school buildings, usually in the more conservative south and east of the country, from where the Taliban insurgency draws most support.

“We are 100 percent sure that the water they drunk inside their classes was poisoned. This is either the work of those who are against girls’ education or irresponsible armed individuals,” said Jan Mohammad Nabizada, a spokesman for education department in northern Takhar province.

Some of the 150 girls, who suffered from headaches and vomiting, were in critical condition, while others were able to go home after treatment in hospital, the officials said.

They said they knew the water had been poisoned because a larger tank used to fill the affected water jugs was not contaminated.

“This is not a natural illness. It’s an intentional act to poison schoolgirls,” said Haffizullah Safi, head of Takhar’s public health department.

None of the officials blamed any particular group for the attack, fearing retribution from anyone named.

The Afghan government said last year that the Taliban, which has been trying to adopt a more moderate face to advance exploratory peace talks, had dropped its opposition to female education.

But the insurgency has never stated that explicitly and in the past acid has been thrown in the faces of women and girls by hardline Islamists while walking to school.

Education for women was outlawed by the Taliban government from 1996-2001 as un-Islamic.

Reuters

Gunmen launch fresh attacks in Kabul

An attack has been launched by gunmen in the Afghan capital Kabul on Sunday, assaulting Western embassies in the heavily guarded, central diplomatic area and at the parliament in the west, witnesses and officials said.

Billows of smoke from attacked building

Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the assault, one of the boldest on the capital since U.S.-backed Afghan forces removed the group from power in 2001.

The Taliban said their main targets were the German and British embassies and the headquarters of Afghanistan’s NATO-led force. Taliban fighters had also launched assaults in two provinces, a spokesman for the insurgents said.

“We claim responsibility for these attacks,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

The coordinated attack is bound to intensify worry in the run-up to the planned withdrawal of foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.

Afghan security forces, who are responsible for the safety of the capital, were scrambling to reinforce areas around the so-called green diplomatic section of the city centre.

Attackers fired a rocket-propelled grenade that landed just outside the front gate of a house used by British diplomats in the city centre and smoke billowed from the area after the blast, a Reuters witness said.

British embassy sources said staff were in a lockdown.

Two rockets hit a British Embassy guard tower near the Reuters office in the city.

A spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said via Twitter that there were no reports of casualties on possibly seven locations in Kabul.

“ANSF and ISAF responding as needed,” the spokesman said, referring to Afghan security forces and their NATO partners.

However, fighting was going on near the U.S., Russian and German embassies, and at some ISAF facilities, the Twitter report said.

Three other rockets hit a supermarket near the German Embassy popular with foreigners, Reuters witnesses said. Women scurried for cover as crackling gunfire was heard above.

As the gunfire continued, U.S. army convoys could be seen coming to the area accompanied by Afghan police in flak jackets.

Shooting came from various directions in an area close to both the U.S. and British embassies, while smoke billowed from the nearby German embassy, the Reuters witnesses said.

Embassy alarms were sounding. Staff at the embassies were not available for comment.

Attackers also fired rockets at the parliament building in the west of the city, and at the Russian embassy, a spokesman for the parliament said.

Most MPs had left the building before it came under attack, said a lawmaker.

Afghan media said insurgents had stormed the Star Hotel complex near the presidential palace and the Iranian embassy and black smoke was pouring from the building.

In the eastern province of Paktia, insurgents occupied a four-storey building near the compound of the chief of police, a witness said.

A helicopter gunship from Afghanistan’s NATO-led force was firing at the building in the province on the Pakistani border, which has been plagued by violence for years.