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August 4, 2020

31 killed in IS attack on Jalalabad prison

Top Story

August 4, 2020

JALALABAD: At least 31 people have been killed in a raid claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group on an Afghan prison, officials said Monday, shattering a ceasefire between the Taliban and government forces marking the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Azha.

Fighting was still raging on Monday, a day after gunmen stormed the prison holding around 1,700 mostly Islamic State (IS) or Taliban inmates in the eastern city of Jalalabad. The IS news outlet Amaq announced its fighters were behind the raid, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.

Gunmen remained holed up inside and around the prison, Nangarhar governor’s spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said. Several armoured vehicles and scores of security personnel were seen deployed in the area, and gunfire and explosions could be heard.

Zaher Adel, a spokesman for the provincial hospital, said 31 people had been killed so far — including security personnel. The toll was expected to rise, he warned, as many of the more than 40 wounded people were in serious condition.

The raid shattered the relative calm of a ceasefire between the Taliban and Afghan government forces that started Friday and ended Sunday. At the time of Sunday´s attack, the prison held more than 1,700 inmates — mostly IS or Taliban fighters, a security source said. About 700 who escaped have been re-captured, he said.

Khogyani said special forces had so far cleared four floors of a five-storey building outside the prison where several attackers had been holed up since Sunday night. The attack was complex, with gunmen initially setting off an explosives-packed car near the prison.

They later opened fire on the guards at the facility from a nearby market, an official said. The raid came a day after the country´s intelligence agency announced the killing of a top commander of the Islamic State group near Jalalabad.

Assadullah Orakzai was involved in several deadly attacks against Afghan security forces, the National Director of Security said Saturday. The IS attacks continue despite government officials claiming last year that the group´s Afghan branch had been completely defeated in Nangarhar. Some local officials have, however, cautioned that elements of the group remained. The province provided IS with its first foothold in the country in 2015

Meanwhile, a ceasefire between the Taliban and Afghan government appeared to hold for the third and final day on Sunday, with hundreds of militant prisoners released in a bid to bring peace talks closer.

Calm prevailed across much of Afghanistan, with officials not reporting any major clashes between the two foes since the truce began on Friday to mark the Muslim festival of Eidul Azha.

President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban have both indicated that long-delayed negotiations could begin straight after Eid. The rare respite from violence gave some Afghans the opportunity to safely visit relatives for Eid celebrations after long periods apart.

“I managed to visit my village for the first time in two years,” said Khalil Ahmad from volatile Uruzgan province, a hotbed for insurgents. “There were many Taliban checkposts on the way, but they did not bother anyone.”

Shahpoor Shadab, a resident from the eastern city of Jalalabad, said that “Eid feels different, parks are full with people”. “You almost forget that there has been a war in this country for 40 years.”

Kabul resident Fawad Babak, a shopkeeper, was sad that it was the last day of the ceasefire. “I´m a little disheartened the killing and bloodshed may resume again tomorrow,” he said.

In restive Zabul province, several residents recited poems calling for the ceasefire — only the third official halt in fighting in nearly two decades of conflict — to be made permanent. “Peace is everybody´s need and aspiration,” said Sardar Wali, who took part in the poetry session. “This is a great opportunity to extend the ceasefire today and start intra-Afghan talks tomorrow.”

Under a deal signed by the Taliban and the US in February, the “intra-Afghan” talks were slated to start in March, but were delayed amid political infighting in Kabul and as a contentious prisoner swap dragged on.

The deal stipulated that Kabul would free around 5,000 Taliban prisoners in return for 1,000 Afghan security personnel held captive by the Taliban.

The National Security Council said Sunday that a further 300 Taliban prisoners had been released since Friday, taking the total number of insurgents freed so far to just over 4,900. Authorities however have refused to free hundreds of inmates accused of serious crimes that the insurgents had requested for release.

The Taliban said they have already fulfilled their side of the exchange. Meanwhile, the Afghan government on Sunday urged the Taliban to extend a rare ceasefire hours before it was due to end, as a contentious prisoner swap between the two warring sides edged closer to completion.

Officials said there were no reports of fighting between the enemies across much of Afghanistan during the three day truce that marked the Muslim festival of Eidul Azha. However the calm was broken Sunday evening when gunmen stormed a prison in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, leaving at least over dozen people dead and several wounded. The Taliban denied involvement in the assault.