Russian teenager born with no fingers becomes celebrated piano playe

Alexey Romanov tells Russia Behind the Headlines about winning the heart of the nation with a Twilight performance on TV

Alexey Romanov plays for the nation
Alexey Romanov plays for the nation Photograph: Screengrab: YouTube

Teenager Alexey Romanov has become a promising piano player despite a debilitating illness that has deprived him of his fingers since birth.

Sixteen-year-old prodigy Romanov from Zelenodolsk, a village in the Republic of Tatarstan, first took up music two years ago after being inspired by the works of Mozart and Vivaldi.

In the short time since he has performed for the republic’s orchestra and has found fame on national TV.

Romanov’s music teacher at a specialist school for children with disabilities helped him get started, beginning with the melodies from films including vampire series Twilight and 1990s Hollywood blockbuster Titanic, both popular in Russia.

He credits two friends for teaching him the basics of music and how to read notes. “They still help me. They send me sheet music, which I study and if I like something, I let it settle inside me,” he said.

Romanov, who is at boarding school in Tatarstan’s capital Kazan, was adopted two years ago.

Watch Alexey Romanov perform

His adoptive parents, Vladimir and Luisa Levachkovye, noticed his predisposition for art and bought him a synthesizer. With time and a lot of practice, Romanov began participating in competitions – and winning them.

In February he performed with Kazan’s respected La Primavera chamber orchestra, which led to an invitation to join a music school in the capital.

The orchestra’s chief conductor also invited Romanov to participate in the television programme Guests from Tomorrow, where he performed River Flows in You, a composition written by South Korean pianist Lee Ru-ma for Twilight.

The young musician’s performance, seen across Russia, attracted admiration from the public and attention from the media.

One Facebook user said: “Alexey is a hero, he deserves respect and praise! [I] wish you health and happiness in life.”

“We all are constantly complaining about life. One can only admire such people. The guy is fantastic,” added another.

“During the [TV] concert I was shaking from the tension. I can’t even remember what was happening,” reflected Romanov.

“I walked on to the stage, sat down and started playing. I felt my knees shaking. Then I realised that I was doing well, it’s as if the melody started flowing by itself.”

He explained how hard it was for him to learn the music early on, and how worried he was about trembling when he had to speak in front of a large audience.

Romanov, modest to the point of being shy, seemed embarrassed when it was suggested that his story provides inspiration for young musicians and the wider public.

Last week he travelled to Moscow for the first time to take part in the reality show Let Them Talk and met Australian motivational speaker Nick Vujicic, which he said was a lifelong dream.

As for who inspires him, he said: “Sometimes it seems that there is an invisible, endless spiritual source out of which I can draw strength.”

[Source:- Gurdian]

Student Taken Off Plane After Arabic Call

201015 USA Southwest Airlines plane on the ground in Baltimore

A California university student has claimed he was removed from a flight at Los Angeles International Airport because a fellow passenger overheard him talking on the phone in Arabic.

Southwest Airlines said in a statement that the passenger, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, was removed from a flight from Los Angeles to Oakland on 9 April for questioning and the aircraft took off while that was happening.

Mr Makhzoomi, a 26-year-old senior at University of California, Berkeley, said he had been calling his uncle before the flight to tell him about a speech he had attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

He told the New York Times: “I was very excited about the event, so I called my uncle to tell him about it.”

The student said he was talking to his uncle about asking a question on the Islamic State group at the event, and used the phrase “inshallah” – which means god willing – at the end of the conversation.

A woman on the aircraft sitting in front of him then turned around and began staring at him, he said.

“That is when I thought, ‘oh, I hope she is not reporting me’,” he said.

Mr Makhzoomi said an Arabic-speaking Southwest employee escorted him off the plane and asked him why he had been speaking in the language.

He said he told the employee “this is what Islamophobia got this country into”, and he was then told he could not get back on the plane.

The FBI in Los Angeles said in a statement it had investigated the situation and found no further action was necessary.

Southwest Airlines said it could not comment until he has spoken to Mr Makhzoomi. It added that it regrets any less-than-positive experience by a customer, but said its primary focus is on safety and its crew members followed protocol.

It added the company “neither condones nor tolerates discrimination of any kind”.

Mr Makhzoomi was able to book a flight on another airline and arrived home eight hours later than planned.

He told the New York Times: “Human dignity is the most valuable thing in the world, not money.

“If they apologised, maybe it would teach them to treat people equally.”

 
[Source:- Skynews]

IS Files Reveal Danish Recruiters’ Links To UK

IS files

Sky News can reveal that a group of men arrested in Denmark two weeks ago were all named in Islamic State recruitment files leaked to us in March.

The link between the arrests and the files also exposes a connection between Danish IS recruiters and British extremists.

On 7 April, Danish police raided properties in several parts of Copenhagen. A number of arrests were made.

Two days earlier, a 20-year-old man was arrested at the city’s airport. It is understood he was trying to board a plane with a large quantity of cash.

In total, five people were detained and a further four “detained in absentia”. Their whereabouts are not known.

Belgium And Belgians Referenced In Cache Of IS Documents

However, authorities refused to give many further details. In a so-called “double-locked door” legal hearing, the media were prevented from publishing the names of the men.

But Sky News has seen their names and those of the men still being sought. All appear in files leaked to Sky by a disillusioned IS member in March.

Filled out by IS gate keepers when recruits entered the self-proclaimed caliphate, the files are now exposing fighters who have slipped back into their home countries.

One by one authorities are picking them up and piecing together a terror franchise that spans the continent.

We rang the doorbell at the address of one of the detained men.

His entry form lists him as married. He lists his occupation as “childcare” and it states that he entered IS territory on 1 July 2013. It is not clear when he returned to Denmark.

A neighbour told us she knew the man well.

Iraqi security forces work on lowering the Islamic State flag, west of Ramadi

“I would say hello to him every time I walk in or out of the door. A really nice guy, very helpful. He offers to drive me so I don’t have to take a cab,” Lise-Lotte Christensen said.

We showed her the man’s file. “It really surprises me. I had no idea he was that kind of guy, he was just really nice. A lovely, warm person,” she said.

She confirmed to us that he has two young children and a Danish wife, all information which tallies with the associated file.

As with all the files, it lists the person who recommended the man’s entry to IS. In his case it was an individual called Abu Hifs al Pakistani, one of two names which crops up frequently in the files.

Across town, we visit another neighbourhood and the scene of another raid.

One man was taken from a second floor apartment in a block. The name on the doorbell is the same as that on the file which lists further details.

Born 1990, married, entered IS – 9 September 2013, recruiter – Abu Khatab al Pakstani. His name is the other which appears in a number of the files.

Stuart Ramsay

The form of the man arrested at the airport details him as a 20-year-old former mobile phone technician who travelled to Syria on 10 July 2013 when he’d have been just seventeen.

A well-known Copenhagen mosque is listed as his home address.

We know the man was close to the mosque’s imam. We were told the imam was away in Mecca and our calls to his mobile phone didn’t connect.

The recruit’s sponsor is, once again, Abu Hifs al Pakistani.

Between them, Abu Hifs and Abu Khatab are named as the recruiters in all but three of the Danish files.

We have obtained footage of Abu Khatab at a rally in Copenhagen in late 2012. The IS files show us that he would have been recruiting people for jihad at this time.

In the footage, he is seen plugging a mobile phone into a loudspeaker.

A still image from video shows documents identifying supporters of Islamic State

On the other end of the line is the radical cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed, who was once based in Britain and whose connections to radical groups in the UK remain strong.

YouTube footage shows Abu Khatab alongside Abu Hifs in Syria in 2013.

Both men are now dead, but both had contact with known British extremists like Bakri Mohammed and another who can’t currently be named for legal reasons.

The two men’s exposure as high profile recruiters helps European intelligence agencies join up the dots.

A former analyst at the Danish Intelligence Service says that highlighting patterns in the forms is crucial in helping to understand IS.

“One of the most interesting things in the files is who recommended the recruits,” Anja Dalgaard-Neilsen said.

Ms Dalgaard-Neilsen is now the director of the Institute for Strategy at the Royal Danish Defence College. She says the files help not only to apprehend suspects but to prosecute them.

“It has now been criminalised to join a terrorist organisation and that’s the reason why these files are potentially very interesting to the authorities, because they could support the argument of the authorities of the prosecution that these people joined a terrorist organisation,” she said.

“It is, for obvious reasons, difficult to gather evidence in a war zone.

“Until recently it wasn’t a crime in and of itself to travel to Syria so you couldn’t know if people were doing humanitarian work or whether they had actually joined a terrorist organisation.”

The challenge for the authorities is identifying all those in the files.

There are many more Europeans named in files than there have been arrests. Some individuals may have died in Syria. But others could have travelled back to their home countries.

After the atrocities in Paris and Brussels, and IS’ pledge to attack again, there is an urgency to find them.

 
[Source:- Skynews]

Pearl Jam join Springsteen in cancelling North Carolina show over anti-LGBT law

Band follow Ringo Starr and Bryan Adams in calling off concert, calling new law ‘a despicable piece of legislation that encourages discrimination’

Pearl Jam Perform
No Carolina … Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. Photograph: Gary Wolstenholme/Redferns via Getty Images

Pearl Jam have cancelled their concert in North Carolina on 20 April because of the state’s new law on LGBT rights.

In a statement issued Monday on the band’s website, Pearl Jam called the new law “a despicable piece of legislation that encourages discrimination against an entire group of American citizens”.

The Seattle rock group, who were scheduled to perform at PNC Arena in Raleigh, join the likes of Ringo Starr, Bryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen and Cirque du Soleil in boycotting the southeastern state due to the law.

Pearl Jam’s statement says the band has communicated with local groups and will give them money to oppose the law.

The law, known as HB2, prevents transgender people from using the public restrooms that correspond with their gender identity, stating that public institutions must post signs saying that bathrooms and locker rooms are to be used only based on biological sex. It also prevents municipal governments from passing anti-discrimination laws.

The anti-discrimination ordinance approved in February in Charlotte led to a special legislative session. Legislators overturned the ordinance and blocked all cities and counties in North Carolina from passing similar anti-discrimination rules.

Read Pearl Jam’s full statement below.

Pearl Jam statement
Pearl Jam statement Photograph: Pearl Jam Facebook

[Source:- Gurdian]

How Age And Income May Show You Back ‘Brexit’

screengrab from VJU video 2

Eurosceptics have brought down prime ministers, dismantled governments and generally been a thorn in the side of leading politicians for decades.

In finally giving them the referendum they craved, David Cameron has, for now, amplified their voices further.

But who are the Eurosceptics, and why do they want to leave the European Union?

There are two key groups who tend to support a Brexit: older people and poorer people.

The impact of this can be seen in the likes of Clacton – the only parliamentary seat held by UKIP, whose local authority of Tendring is rated as the most Eurosceptic in Britain according to our Sky Data Brexit map.

UK Brexit Map

The least Eurosceptic areas of Britain are in yellow, the most in blue

In this Essex constituency, there are more pensioners than full-time workers, and more than half of voters are on incomes of less than £15,000 per year.

The factors which indicate someone supports a Brexit also manifest themselves in other, less obvious ways.

For example, Sky Data analysis shows Waitrose shoppers are more likely to vote Remain, while those who shop at Aldi are more likely to vote Leave.

Luxury car owners are more likely to be Europhiles, while those who drive small utility cars tend to be more Eurosceptic.

And more obscurely, if you like going fishing, you’re more likely to support the Out campaign – with the reverse being true of cinemagoers.

The main issue driving Leave supporters is immigration.

Two in three Britons (63%) say immigration has had a negative effect on British culture.

Boris Johnson at Vote Leave EU rally in Manchester

The EU is also seen as having a particularly negative impact for unskilled British workers, for whom 42% of Britons think the EU is a bad thing, compared with 16% who think it’s beneficial.

In short, poorer people are worried about their jobs and think their wages are being undercut, while older people feel alienated and intimidated by a multicultural, polylingual Britain that they don’t recognise.

On the other hand, data from YouGov shows the EU is seen as a good thing for our influence on the world stage, employment in the UK generally, and keeping prices down.

For now, neither side is winning the argument on the terrorist threat, nor on the economy – though we shall see if this week’s Treasury forecast of a Brexit costing each UK household £4,300 per year has an impact.

The fact only half of Britons say they have enough information to make an informed decision suggests that opinions may yet be changed ahead of June’s referendum.

 
[Source:- Skynews]

Sally Faulkner: father of children says attempted kidnap charge stands

Ali al-Amin says he does not intend to drop charges against his estranged Australian wife over attempt to seize children

Sally Faulkner and Tara Brown
Lebanese police escort Sally Faulkner (centre, in black) and 60 Minutes reporter Tara Brown (right) from court in Beirut. Photograph: Wael Hamzeh/EPA

The father of two children at the centre of a botched child recovery operation inLebanon has said he is in no hurry to resolve the case and does not intend to drop charges of attempted kidnapping against his estranged Australian wife.

Speaking inside the Baabda palace of justice, a defiant Ali al-Amin contradictedstatements made last week that he was open to compromise on the charges laid against Sally Faulkner.

The judge, Rami Abdullah, adjourned the case until Wednesday to allow talks to continue.

Faulkner, from Brisbane, flew to Lebanon this month with a news crew from theChannel Nine programme 60 Minutes in an attempt to seize the couple’s children from a street in south Beirut.

Tara Brown, the correspondent for 60 Minutes, and Adam Whittington, the founder of Child Abduction Recovery International, are among seven people also facing charges over the operation. The others include the 60 Minutes cameraman Benjamin Williamson, producer Stephen Rice, and sound recordist David Ballment.

Amin suggested on Monday that if he agreed to drop charges against his ex-wife, he would also make it more likely that the 60 Minutes crew, Whittington and two others involved in the operation, would be freed too.

“They are trying to push for that if Sally gets bail, they all get bail,” he said. “I said then I will charge everyone involved and I say it today. It will take some time. I am in no hurry.”

Amin appeared confident and unhurried, in contrast to Faulkner who seemed tired and distressed when she was brought before the judge. Brown also appeared briefly in chambers.

Abdullah said a hearing for the group had been postponed because another case had taken precedent. Under Lebanon’s inquisitorial judicial system, pre-trial hearings can be part mediation sessions and part interrogation.

Amin took five-year-old Lahela and three-year-old Noah to Lebanon almost a year ago. Faulkner, who was separated from Amin, then involved a child recovery team, which arranged to seize them.

The operation was successful, but the team behind it was quickly seized. All involved, including Faulkner, were arrested.

Whittington’s lawyer said he was expected to have presented documents to the court that showed 60 Minutes had paid him in two tranches.

60 Minutes’ Ross Coulthart talks about the crew in Lebanon

A lawyer for 60 Minutes, Kamal Abou Daher, admitted that Channel Nine had paid for the story, but attempted to draw a distinction between the legal fight for custody of the children and the abduction itself.

“Ali’s lawyers said it and you heard yourself, they are not in a hurry,” he said. “This changed after the last hearing.”

Speaking inside his chambers, Abdullah said he had no preference for how the case progressed from here. “Of course, if everything is negotiated it is better,” he said. “However that is up to the parties.”

On Sunday, the 60 Minutes host Ross Coulthart said the programme’s detained crew members were “said to be in good spirits and coping well”. Brown has said she was being “well-treated in a women’s detention centre”, he said, while her male colleagues were held separately.

On Monday, prominent Channel Nine journalists rallied to support Brown and the rest of the crew before the hearing.

60 Minutes’ apparent decision to cover the costs of the child recovery operation has faced intense scrutiny, but a number of Australian journalists have now come to the show’s defence.

On Monday, Tracy Grimshaw defended the crew in an article for the Australian, saying they were not “tabloid cowboys”.

“They are not a threat to society. That’s probably the biggest Captain Obvious statement you will read all day. They are good people who care about what they do, who love their families and friends and are loved very much back,” she wrote.

 

 [Source:- Gurdian]

Everybody Loves Raymond Star Doris Roberts Dies

Actress Doris Roberts

Doris Roberts, who played Marie Barone in the long-running sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, has died at the age of 90.

The veteran actress passed away in her sleep at her home in Los Angeles, a family spokeswoman said.

Her cause of death has not been made public, but a statement said the Missouri-born actress had been healthy and active.

Roberts’ performance as Ray Romano’s meddlesome mother in the TV comedy about a dysfunctional family was one of her best-known roles.

Cast members pose for group photo at the series wrap party of "Everybody Loves Raymond" in California.

Roberts pictured with the cast of Everybody Loves Raymond in 2005

Upon hearing of her death, Romano said: “Doris Roberts had an energy and a spirit that amazed me. She never stopped.

“Whether working professionally or with her many charities, or just nurturing and mentoring a green young comic trying to make it as an actor, she did everything with such a grand love for life and people and I will miss her dearly.”

During Everybody Loves Raymond’s nine-year run, she won the outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series award at the Emmys four times – and was nominated a further three times.

In 1983, she also won the outstanding supporting actress in a drama series award for her role in the medical soap opera St Elsewhere.

After Everybody Loves Raymond came to an end in 2005, she made guest appearances in other well-known TV shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives.

Phil Rosenthal, who created Everybody Loves Raymond, tweeted: “We loved our mom, the great Doris Roberts. A wonderful, funny, indelible actress and friend.”

She is survived by her son, Michael, and three grandchildren.

 

[Source:- Skynews]

Ecuador earthquake death toll passes 400 with many still trapped

More than 300 aftershocks recorded and Spanish Red Cross says as many as 100,000 people may need assistance

People in Pedernales
People in Pedernales, one of the towns worst hit by the earthquake. Photograph: Rodrigo Buendia/AFP/Getty Images

The death toll from the 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Ecuador has risen to 413, and many survivors are believed to still be trapped inside collapsed buildings.

The government announced the updated toll on Monday night. The security minister, César Navas, said rescuers were continuing to search for victims and survivors.

More than 300 aftershocks have rattled Ecuador in the 36 hours since Saturday’s quake, some measuring as high as magnitude 6.1, according to the country’s Geophysics Institute.

Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, said citizens would pull together after the disaster. “The Ecuadorian spirit knows how to move forward, and will know how to overcome these very difficult moments,” he said.

Early on Monday, rescuers pulled three people from the rubble alive after they had spent more than 32 hours trapped in the ruins of a shopping centre in the city of Manta.

Firefighters cut a 70cm hole in concrete to pull out two women and a young man, who were rushed to a nearby hospital. A third woman remained trapped and was being given water while rescuers tried to lift a concrete slab pinning down her legs.

More than 2,500 people were injured in the disaster, which brought down housing blocks and air traffic control towers, buckled bridges and cracked pavements. In the coastal town of Chamanga, authorities estimated that more than 90% of homes had been damaged.

At least 100 of those killed in the quake were citizens of the regional capital Portoviejo. They included the Quinde family – a mother, father, teenage daughter and toddler son – killed when a four-storey hotel collapsed on their car.

The Quindes were en route to drop off Sayira, 17, for her first term at university, where she had won a scholarship to study medicine. “I never thought my life would be destroyed in a minute,” her aunt Johana Estupiñan told AP.

Few buildings in the city centre had escaped damage: some had lost a few bricks, but others had been reduced to rubble. “It looks like there’s been a war,” said Cesar Velasco, who works for a transport company.

At the Aki supermarket market, survivors stocked up on bottled water, juices, bread – and styrofoam plates to replace shattered crockery. Elsewhere in the provincial capital of 300,000, there were reports of looting as survivors stole clothing and shoes from shattered buildings.

On the road to Portoviejo, a steady stream of ambulances transported the critically injured from the region toward hospitals in Guayaquil, which is 130 miles away and not as severely affected by the earthquake.

At a girls’ school in Playa Prieta, six members of staff including a Northern Irish nun were killed when the building collapsed. Sister Clare, 33, from Derry, was a nun in the Home of the Mother order. Her family said they believed she had been trying to lead colleagues out of the school to safety when a stairwell collapsed.

“She was trying to get them down the stairs and the staircase collapsed. We knew she was trapped but information has been slow to come out,” her cousin Emmet Doyle said. “She died as she lived, helping others.”

Two Canadian citizens, mother and son Jennifer and Arthur Flawn from Quebec, were also among the dead, the family confirmed to Canada’s CTV News.

Warning of the continued risk of aftershocks, radio and television broadcasts recommended residents have a small backpack ready with water, tinned tuna and a flashlight near the door of their homes.

The Spanish Red Cross said as many as 100,000 people may need assistance in holiday towns and fishing villages in the more remote regions near the epicentre of the quake, where citizens have been sleeping outside among the ruins.

The charity said it estimated that 3,000 to 5,000 people needed temporary housing. About 800 volunteers and staff members with the Ecuadorian Red Cross were involved with search and rescue operations and helping provide first aid.

Spain has sent a military plane with 47 search and rescue experts and their five dogs to Ecuador, and it is expected to arrive in Guayaquil on Monday afternoon. Other rescue teams have flown in from Mexico and Colombia.

Local radio reported that two lorries filled with emergency supplies had been carjacked as they headed to the worst-affected areas.

[Source:- Gurdian]

US feels ‘overwhelming frustration’ with Israeli government, says Biden

Vice-president’s public remarks show continued strain between the countries in the wake of Iranian nuclear deal

US vice-president Joe Biden during his visit to Jerusalem in March
US vice-president Joe Biden during his visit to Jerusalem in March. Photograph: Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock

The US vice-president, Joe Biden, has delivered an unusually sharp critique of the government of Binyamin Netanyahu, saying the Israeli prime minister is leading Israel in the wrong direction through his policies, including settlement building.

Biden described the Obama administration’s “overwhelming frustration” withIsrael, adding that “profound questions” existed about how the country could remain both Jewish and democratic.

Although Biden’s comments, made in a speech to the Jewish American group J-Street, also criticised Palestinians for the failure of the last round of Middle East peace talks, his remarks about the Netanyahu government were particularly pointed.

“I firmly believe that the actions that Israel’s government has taken over the past several years – the steady and systematic expansion of settlements, the legalisation of outposts, land seizures – they’re moving us and more importantly they’re moving Israel in the wrong direction,” Biden said.

His remarks appear to have scotched the notion that relations between Israel and its most significant backer – which have been unusually strained – were returning to normal after the deep frictions over the Iran nuclear deal.

Biden insisted, however, that the US remained committed to Israel’s security.

“No matter what political disagreements we have with Israel – and we do have political disagreements now – there is never any question about our commitment to Israel’s security.”

Biden’s comments will concern senior Israeli politicians. They have been fretting over what stance the US might take over a mooted resolution at the UN security council, being pushed by Palestinians, seeking to condemn Israel’s continued construction of illegal settlements.

Although Biden’s remarks echoed both public and private comments in recent months made by senior American officials, their high-profile nature is significant, not least because they come in the midst of stalled negotiations between the US and Israel over a military aid package with demands from Israel for more aid than the US is willing to give.

“Israel will not get everything it asks for, but it will get every single solitary thing it needs,” Biden remarked.

The US vice-president also added his voice to the increasing number of international figures warning that Israelis and Palestinians were heading towards a “dangerous” one-state “reality” – and the effective death of a two-state solution.

In March, Biden met both Netanyahu and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. He said he came away from that trip discouraged about prospects for peace anytime soon, adding it was the US’s obligation to “push … as hard as we can” towards a two-state solution despite “our sometimes overwhelming frustration with the Israeli government”.

Biden added: “There is at the moment no political will that I observed from either Israelis or Palestinians to go forward with serious negotiations.

“Both sides have to take responsibility for counterproductive steps that undermine confidence in negotiations.”

Biden also singled out Palestinian leaders, including Abbas, for declining to condemn specific acts of terrorism carried out against Israelis, in a nod to the seven-month wave of Palestinian stabbings and other attacks. He said he didn’t know whether Monday’s bus explosion in Jerusalem was a terrorist attack, but added that the US condemns “misguided cowards” who resort to violence.

“No matter what legitimate disagreements the Palestinian people have with Israel, there is never justification for terrorism,” Biden said. “No leader should fail to condemn as terrorists those who commit such brutalities.”

[Source:- Gurdian]

Kabul hit by deadly explosion as Taliban begins spring offensive

At least 28 people have been killed and scores injured after a Taliban car bomb exploded in a crowded area of Kabul near ministries and government offices, and a gun battle ensued between attackers and security forces.

The heavily laden car exploded shortly before 9am local time outside the office of a security detail responsible for protecting Afghan government VIPs and officials, according to police sources.

The blast ripped through the city, rattling windows several miles away, and was followed by gunfire as attackers took cover in nearby buildings. A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack, which came a week after the insurgents launched their annual spring offensive.

Afghan security officials at the site of the Kabul blast.
Afghan security officials at the site of the Kabul blast. Photograph: Hedayatullah Amid/EPA

Obaidullah Tarakhail, a police commander who was at the scene when the attack began, told the Associated Press: “This was one of the most powerful explosions I have ever heard in my life.” Tarakhail said he could not see or hear anything for 20 minutes after the initial explosion. “All around was dark and covered with thick smoke and dust,” he said.

Kabul’s police chief, Abdul Rahman Rahimi, told reporters at the scene that 28 people had been killed. He said the attack left 183 injured, but a spokesman for the public health ministry put that figure at 327. The casualty figures are expected to rise.

Emergency, an Italian-run hospital for war wounded in Kabul, said it had received 22 casualties, most of them members of the security forces, and most lightly injured. Luca Radaelli, Emergency’s medical coordinator, said numbers could rise because it had been difficult to evacuate victims while the fighting continued.

Sediq Sediqqi, an Afghan interior ministry spokesman, said the suicide bombing was followed by an assault by armed militants. “One armed terrorist was shot and killed by security forces and the gun battle is still under way with an unknown number of other terrorists,” he said. A spokesman for the Kabul police chief later said the gun battle in the compound had ended.

President Ashraf Ghani said in a statement: “[We] condemn in the strongest terms the terrorist attack in Puli Mahmood Khan neighbourhood of Kabul, as a result of which many of our countrymen were martyred and wounded. Such cowardly terrorist attacks will not weaken the will and determination of Afghan security forces to fight against terrorism.”

The Afghan government, backed by its international allies, has for months tried to convince the insurgents to restart peace talks, but so far to no avail.

While the spring fighting season normally heralds intensified attacks, winter was unusually violent, with sustained Taliban offensives around the country and several attacks on the capital.

In January, the Taliban attacked a restaurant in Kabul frequented by foreigners and affluent Afghans, killing a guard and a 12-year-old boy. Later that month, the militant group killed seven employees of TOLO TV in an attack on one of the media group’s buses.

On Sunday, the UN released a report documenting a slight increase in civilian casualties in the first three months of 2016, compared with the same period last year.

The report also showed that while the Taliban have scaled down their use of improvised explosive devices and targeted killings, the militants are increasingly using complex and suicide attacks in populated areas.

[Source:- Gurdian]