TEHRAN: A Russian-made Iranian passenger plane nearly 170 people crashed shortly after takeoff Wednesday, smashing into a field northwest of the capital and shattering to pieces. State television said all on board were killed.
The plane’s tail burst into flames in the air and it circled in the air as if looking for a place to land before it crashed, an unidentified witness told the semi-official ISNA news agency.
The impact gouged a deep trench in the dirt field, which was shown littered with smoking wreckage in footage shown on state TV. It showed a large chunk of a wing, but much of the wreckage appeared to be in small pieces, and emergency workers and witnesses picked around the shredded metal for bodies and flight data recorders to determine the cause of the crash.
Iranian plane crash kills all 170 on board
The Caspian Airlines Tupolev jet had taken off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport Wednesday and was headed to the Armenian capital Yerevan. It crashed about 16 minutes after takeoff near the village of Jannat Abad outside the city of Qazvin, around 75 miles northwest of Tehran, civil aviation spokesman Reza Jaafarzadeh told state media.
At Yerevan’s airport, Tina Karapetian, 45, said she had been waiting for her sister and the sister’s 6- and 11-year-old sons, who were due on the flight. ‘What will I do without them?’ she said, weeping, before she collapsed to the floor.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known, but Iran has frequent crashes that are blamed on poor maintenance of its aging fleet. Hossein Ayaznia, an aviation police official, said emergency workers were searching for the plane’s black box.
The deputy chairman of Armenia’s civil aviation authority Arsen Pogosian told reporters in Yerevan there were 154 passengers and 15 crewmembers on board the TU-154M. Earlier, Jaafarzadeh had put the number at 153 passengers and 15 crew, and the reason for the discrepancy was not immediately known.
Six Armenian citizens and two Georgian citizens were on the flight, and the rest were likely Iranians, Pogosian said.
Serob Karapetian, the chief of Yerevan airport’s aviation security service, said the plane may have attempted an emergency landing, but reports that it caught fire in the air were ‘only one version.’ He did not elaborate.
Qazvin emergency services director Hossein Bahzadpour told the IRNA news agency that the plane was completely destroyed and shattered the pieces. ‘It is highly likely that all the passengers on the flight were killed,’ he said.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issued a statement expressing condolences for the deaths and urging a swift investigation of the cause.
Also among the passengers were eight members of Iran’s national youth judo team, along with two trainers and a delegation chief, who were scheduled to train with the Armenian judo team before attending competitions in Hungary on Aug. 6, state TV said.
Tehran blames the maintenance woes of its airlines in part on US sanctions that prevent Iran from getting spare parts for some planes. However, Caspian Airlines – an Iranian-Russian joint venture founded in 1993 – uses Russian-made Tupolevs whose maintenance would be less impaired by American sanctions.
In February 2006, a Russian-made TU-154 operated by Iran Airtour, which is affiliated with Iran’s national carrier, crashed during landing in Tehran, killing 29 of the 148 people on board. Another Airtour Tupolev crashed in 2002 in the mountains of western Iran, killing all 199 on board.
The crashes have also affected Iran’s military. In December 2005, 115 people were killed when a US-made C-130 plane, crashed into a 10-story building near Tehran’s Mehrabad airport. In Nov. 2007, a Russian-made Iranian military plane crashed shortly after takeoff killing 36 members of the elite Revolutionary Guards. —AP
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China issues alert in Algeria
China has urged its citizens in Algeria to take extra care, after reports that a militant group might take revenge for the recent deaths of Muslim Uighurs.
On Tuesday a UK-based security firm reported that an al-Qaeda-linked group had threatened to target Chinese workers in north Africa.
The Chinese foreign minister recently appealed for understanding within the Muslim world in the wake of the unrest.
Officials say 137 Han Chinese and 46 Uighurs died in the riots, in Urumqi.
Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province, is currently under heavy police and military control.
On Tuesday the London-based risk firm Stirling Assynt reported that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb had threatened to target Chinese workers in north Africa.
In response to the report, the Chinese embassy in Algiers has urged all 50,000 Chinese who live and work in Algeria to be more aware of safety precautions.
It told residents to strengthen security measures “in consideration of the situation after the 5 July incident in Urumqi”.
Exiled Uighur organisations have said they oppose all forms of violence and condemn the alleged al-Qaeda threat.
One nation which has seen a particularly strong anti-China reaction in the wake of the Urumqi violence is Turkey.
Demonstrations have been held across the country to protest against the Chinese government’s handling of the incident, and the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the Chinese of “genocide”.
Uighurs are Turkic-speaking people and share linguistic and cultural bonds with Turks.
Turkish news agency Anatolia reported on Wednesday that a Chinese diplomat, Song Aiguo, was in Ankara for talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
Mr Song, a former ambassador to Ankara, said the Chinese government felt sorrow over the Xinjiang incidents, adding that he was in Ankara to avoid possible damage to Sino-Turkish ties.
Meanwhile Chinese diplomats in Australia are reportedly trying to block the screening of a film about exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer.
The director of the Melbourne Film Festival, Richard Moore, said that when the programme for next month’s festival was published, a Chinese consular official contacted him and insisted he withdraw it.
Mr Moore said he had declined the request.
The film – The Ten Conditions of Love – explores the impact on the family of Ms Kadeer of her fight for the rights of China’s Uighur minority.
China blamed the Xinjiang riots of Ms Kadeer, a claim she vehemently denies.
TAJIKISTAN: MYSTERIOUS DEATH RAISES CONCERNS ABOUT MILITANT RETURNS
Saodat Mahbatsho 7/14/09
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The mysterious killing of Mirzo Ziyoev, a former opposition commander and cabinet minister, is prompting foreign officials to voice concern about instability in mountainous areas of Tajikistan along the Afghan border. Tajik officials, while attempting to project an image that they remain in control of the security situation, say the rising violence in the South is connected to the return of militants from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Ziyoev, according to official accounts, was killed July 11 in a gunfight between security agents and members of a narcotics trafficking gang. The official version of Ziyoev’s demise was laid out by Deputy Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimov at a news conference.
Rahimov alleged that Ziyoev was a member of a gang involved in an armed attack on a police checkpoint on July 8 in Tavildara, a key transit route linking eastern and western Tajikistan. One official report suggested Ziyoev was trying to take control of the district center. The gang was reportedly led by a long-time Ziyoev acquaintance, Nemat Azizov.
The deputy minister went on to assert that the Azizov/Ziyoev gang was part of an “international terrorist” network that had links to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The group supposedly relied on trafficking profits to fund its militant activities. “The group included several Russian citizens of Chechen origin aiming to transport large amounts of money through Tajikistan to support terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Rahimov claimed.
After the July 8 skirmish, Ziyoev and several other members of the gang were arrested. He was killed as he tried to assist government forces in disarming the remaining gang members, the deputy minister explained.
“Mirzo Ziyoev agreed to cooperate with the military forces, and even agreed to show the places where weapons were stored, and to conduct negations with the rest of the terrorist group,” Rahimov said. “However, on the way, members of the Nemat Azizov group attacked the government military forces. Ziyoev was killed and several soldiers of the government agencies were injured.”
Ziyoev was a leading commander of United Tajik Opposition fighters who battled forces loyal to President Imomali Rahmon during Tajikistan’s 1992-97 civil war. As part of the peace agreement, Ziyoev joined the government as minister for emergency situations. But he lost his ministerial portfolio in 2006, amid a purge carried out by Rahmon of UTO elements within the government.
In recent months, Tajikistan has experienced rising violence that government officials have attributed to drug trafficking, and, now, militants. Tajikistan’s porous border is a major smuggling route for drugs originating in Afghanistan, though some analysts have said that a much-touted operation, Poppy 2009, officially designed to weed out drug smugglers in the Rasht Valley and Badakhshan regions, is actually targeting former members of the opposition. Government officials have made repeated public denials that the ongoing Poppy 2009 operation is designed to curb the Islamic militant presence in southern and eastern areas of the country.
Despite the denials, a senior Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity to EurasiaNet, said that militant former opposition members may be forging new ties with Taliban fighters who are being driven out of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area. Poppy 2009, he added, is indeed intended to drive out foreign-based insurgents with links to the former opposition.
“With military operations in Waziristan [Pakistan] and Afghanistan, a majority of the former Tajik opposition leaders who escaped after the [civil] war started coming back to the country. At the end of February 2009, Abdullo Rakhimov, also known as Mullo Abdullo, also came back to the country and started meeting with the former opposition leaders,” the official said on July 13.
The Interior Ministry official suggested Ziyoev had established ties to Abdullo’s band.
“Mirzo Ziyoev did not agree to join them at the beginning and was working more towards supporting the government, but ultimately [he] joined this group,” the official said.
The issue of returning militants to Central Asia is attracting the attention of the international community. Speaking at a news conference in Dushanbe on July 14, Ambassador Pierre Morel, the European Union’s Special Representative in Central Asia, said, “the European Union is highly concerned about the situation in Pakistan and its reflection on Tajikistan.”
“We support the current politics of the country directed towards eradication of armed terrorist groups and drug traffic to Tajikistan,” Morel added.
Whether Ziyoev was really killed during a drug-gang ambush, or died under different circumstances remains a matter of speculation, local political analysts say. But whatever the truth concerning Ziyoev’s death, the militant-return issue is one that can no longer be ignored. “This [Ziyoev’s death] reflects the geopolitical situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan as many former opposition members are coming back to Tajikistan and seeking bases here,” said political analyst Parviz Mullojanov.
Abdugani Mamadazimov, chair of the National Association of Political Scientists, agrees that insurgents are fleeing Pakistan for Tajikistan, using a route they know from the end of the civil war in the 1990s. “When recent operations started in Pakistan [in the Swat Valley], which is located not far from [Badakhshan Province], the terrorists were pressured to move north. In 1999 and 2000, the members of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan used this corridor to escape from Tajikistan to Pakistan,” he said. The Tajik government “created Operation Poppy 2009 to eliminate them.”
The situation in the Tavildara District and the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region near the Afghan border remains tense. Locals in Tavildara say the security situation in the district is sketchy. Military operations are ongoing, they add.
Border attacks on Tajik territory by insurgents and drug smugglers have grown more brazen in recent weeks, suggesting the Tajik border service is struggling to cope with the threats. In a July 3 skirmish in the southern Khatlon region, for example, Tajik troops managed to kill two Afghan infiltrators, but 200 fighters escaped and fled back over the border.
Editor’s Note: Saodat Mahbatsho is the pseudonym for a Tajik journalist.
Posted July 14, 2009 © Eurasianet
Pakistan calls for sealing border to check Taliban inflow from Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn 2009-07-15 21:18:02 Print
By Hadi Mayar
ISLAMABAD, July 15 (Xinhua) — Toning down its objection to the deployment of more U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Pakistan has now renewed – more vigorously – its call for sealing the Afghan border.
The demand was reiterated on Tuesday by Rahman Malik, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, in an interview when he called for checking material and manpower support to the Pakistani Taliban militants from across the Afghan frontier.
“Two years ago, we were being criticized by the West for our ISI (Inter Service Intelligence), helping the Taliban cross into Afghanistan,” he said in reference to the spate of allegations the United States and the Afghan government had been leveling against the Pakistani intelligence agency, accusing it of supporting Afghan Taliban fighters.
“We have stopped the border crossing,” he asserted, but prompted to add: “Now we are facing the same situation – they (Taliban) are coming from the other side, bringing arms and fighters from Helmand into Balochistan and Waziristan.”
Ever since the United States, under its new strategy, announced on March 27, to send additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan. However, Pakistani officials, including Prime Minister Syed YousufRaza Gilani, and the media have been arguing that such a massive U.S. troop deployment in Afghanistan would push the insurgent Taliban into the Pakistani territory.
Islamabad has already alleged that the Pakistani Taliban, including even those operating in Swat – far from the Afghan border – have been receiving arms and ammunition and manpower support from their Afghan counterpart.
Security forces operating in the troubled Swat area claim that the arms and equipment they have seized from Taliban fighters carry Western mark, which mean they were supplied to the militants from Afghanistan.
Pakistan has also been alleging that Afghanistan’s territory is being used for maneuvering insurgent activities in Pakistan.
“Activities against Pakistan are being directed from Kunar (a province of Afghanistan),” Rahman Malik alleged.
For quite some time, the United States and the Afghan government had been alleging that the Taliban in Afghanistan received arms and funds from across the Durand Line, calling on Pakistan to plug the border.
Just last week, Afghan officials claimed to have arrested a would-be suicide attacker crossing into Helmand province from Pakistan.
Pakistan has deployed over 100,000 troops along the 2,600-kilomter long border, establishing 1,000 check points all along the frontier to stop support for the Afghan Taliban from Pakistani side.
Although the Pakistani officials have, over the past several months, relented in their opposition to the deployment of more U.S.forces in Afghanistan, they are continuously calling for checking support for the Pakistani Taliban from the other side of the border.
“NATO troops in Afghanistan should have first sealed the border before stepping up the fighting. If we cannot seal it totally we should seal it as much as possible,” the Pakistani Interior Minister said.
Earlier, Pakistan had called for fencing of the Afghan border on the pattern of its frontier with India, which the latter has fenced with barbed wire “to check infiltration of terrorists from across Pakistan.”
However, Afghanistan, which officially does not recognize the Durand Line as an international frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan, has outrightly rejected the demand.
Durand Line was demarcated in 1893 under an agreement signed between Afghanistan and the then colonial British government of undivided India.
“We have 1,000 checkpoints on our side (of the border) – they (Afghans) have only 100 of which only 60 are working,” Rahman Malik said, adding that “it made no sense to both fighting either side of the border without stopping the militants crossing.”
Editor: Fang Yang