x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Prominent cleric and Nato soldiers killed in Afghanistan

Militants shoot and kill a prominent Muslim cleric who had called for peace, as two Nato soldiers are killed in a separate attack.

Militants shot and killed a prominent Muslim cleric who had called for peace in insurgency-wracked Afghanistan along with two members of his family, officials said today, the latest in a string of killings targeting figures perceived as pro-government. Two Italian soldiers were also killed and two others were seriously injured in a separate attack today when a bomb hit a Nato military convoy in north-western Afghanistan, Italy's foreign ministry told AFP. The cleric Rahman Gul, his brother and a relative were gunned down in an ambush yesterday while returning to their homes in the Chapa Dara district of Kunar province, the Interior Ministry and provincial police chief Gen. Khalilullah Zaiyie said. In recent days, Mr Gul, the chief of the district clerical council, had stressed the importance of "peace and stability" across Afghanistan. No one claimed responsibility, but the Taliban insurgents are known to target those who oppose their extreme, militant interpretation of Islam. The shooting capped a weekend of roadside bombings, assassination, militant attacks and suicide blasts across the country as part of an expected springtime spike in insurgent violence in the war-battered country. The four Nato soldiers were in a vehicle that was struck by a roadside bomb, the weapon of choice of Taliban-led insurgents fighting the Western-backed Afghan government and around 130,000 US-led foreign troops in the country. Italy's prime minister Silvio Berlusconi expressed his condolences for the deaths but underscored his commitment to keeping troops in Afghanistan. "The mission in Afghanistan to stabilise and pacify a strategic region is of fundamental importance" he said in a statement. The injuries of the two soldiers were apparently not life-threatening. The attack was about 25 kilometres south of the town of Bala Murghab on the border with Turkmenistan, a spokesman for the Italian contingent in Afghanistan said in a television interview. Italy has 3,300 troops in Afghanistan as part of Nato's International Security Assistance Force and heads the western regional command headquartered in the city of Herat. The deaths brought to 200 the number of foreign troops to die this year in the Afghan war, according to an AFP tally based on that kept by the independent icasualties.org website. A total of 520 died in 2009. Twenty-three Italian soldiers and one diplomat have died since the beginning of the mission. The Taliban were removed from government in Afghanistan a US-led invasion in 2001. * AFP and AP