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Terrorist Attack at Nightclub in Istanbul Kills Dozens

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ISTANBUL — A gunman opened fire at a nightclub in Istanbul filled with New Year’s revelers about an hour after midnight Sunday, killing at least 39 people and injuring scores of others, according to Turkish officials.

Fifteen of the people killed were foreigners, the Foreign Ministry said. They included three Jordanians; two Indians; a Tunisian couple; a teenager from Israel; a Lebanese man; and a dual citizen of Belgium and Turkey, according to news agencies and government statements.

Sixty-nine people were hospitalized, four of them in critical condition. Among the scores of injured people were citizens of France, Israel, Morocco, Libya and Saudi Arabia.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the gunman was being sought.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the mass shooting, which came as threats against Turkey by the Islamic State and its supporters have increased. It was the fourth terrorist attack in Turkey in less than a month.

“They are working to destroy our country’s morale and create chaos by deliberately targeting our nation’s peace and targeting civilians with these heinous attacks,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement. “We will retain our cool-headedness as a nation, standing more closely together, and we will never give ground to such dirty games.”

He added: “Turkey is determined to continue to fight to the end against terror and to do whatever is necessary to ensure the security of its citizens and secure peace in the region.”

The attack started about 1:15 a.m. at the Reina nightclub, in the Ortakoy neighborhood overlooking the Bosporus. The club is known for its celebrity clientele and its popularity among foreigners. As many as 600 people were celebrating the New Year when a lone attacker, said to be armed with a Kalashnikov rifle, burst in, officials said.

Gov. Vasip Sahin of Istanbul Province said a police officer outside the club had been killed before the bloodshed began inside.

“One person first kills the police officer outside, and then a civilian,” Mr. Sahin said. “Inside, he rained bullets brutally, mercilessly over innocent people who were there just to celebrate the New Year and have fun.”

In the ensuing panic and the rush to escape, some clubgoers jumped into the Bosporus — which separates Europe and Asia — and others hunkered down for safety.

Sinem Uyanik, who was there with her husband, Lutfu Uyanik, told The Associated Press that she had seen several bodies inside the club. Her husband was wounded, she added, but not seriously.

“Before I could understand what was happening, my husband fell on top me,” she said. “I had to lift several bodies from on top of me before I could get out.”

A wounded man on a stretcher told the independent Turkish news agency DHA that the attacker had “put a bullet to the head of anyone alive.”

Television footage showed dozens of ambulances rushing to the scene and people fleeing, some walking with difficulty, arm in arm.

The owner of Reina, Mehmet Kocarslan, told the Hurriyet news site that security measures had been beefed up over the past 10 days after American intelligence officials had warned about an attack in Turkey over the holidays.

The Istanbul shooting came just days after the Nashir Media Foundation, a group identified by experts as supporting the Islamic State, published the last of three messages calling on individual attackers in the West to turn the holiday season into days of “terror and blood.” It urged attacks on clubs, markets and movie theaters.

Nashir Media singled out Turkey in its threats. “Attack the embassies and consulates of Turkey and all coalition countries where you are,” the message said. “Turn their happiness and joy into grieves,” it went on in garbled English, “and their feasts into funerals.”

Relatives react at the funeral of Ayhan Arik, a victim of an attack by a gunman at Reina nightclub, in Istanbul, Turkey, 1 January, 2017

Relatives react at the funeral of Ayhan Arik, a victim of an attack by a gunman at Reina nightclub, in Istanbul, Turkey, 1 January, 2017 Photograph: Osman Orsal/Reuters

In addition, there have been numerous official threats by the Islamic State, including from its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who in his most recent speech called for attacks against Turkey.

On Dec. 22, the United States government said in a statement that extremist groups were “continuing aggressive efforts to conduct attacks throughout Turkey” in areas where American citizens and expatriates lived or visited. The statement urged caution about being in crowded places and public gatherings during the holidays.

The Turkish prime minister, Binali Yildirim, immediately cracked down on news coverage of the attack. He directed news outlets to await official government updates. He invoked a law that enables a news blackout for national security reasons or in cases of serious disturbances to public order.

A White House official said President Obama had been briefed by his national security advisers about the nightclub attack. Mr. Obama expressed his condolences and offered assistance to the Turkish authorities.

“We stand in solidarity with our NATO ally Turkey in combating the ongoing threat of terrorism,” Mark C. Toner, the deputy spokesman for the State Department, said in a statement.

The attack, a bloody start to the new year, drew condemnation from world leaders.

Pope Francis prayed for the victims in the attack, for those injured, “and the whole nation in mourning,” during his weekly address to the faithful on Sunday at St. Peter’s Square, in Vatican City. Expressing his “closeness to the Turkish people,” the pope asked “the Lord to support all people of good will who roll up their sleeves to boldly tackle the scourge of terrorism and this stain of blood that envelops the world with a shadow of fear and bewilderment.”

Marking the Roman Catholic Church’s 50th World Day of Peace, the pope told an estimated 50,000 faithful that peace was built by “saying ‘no’ — with facts — to hate and violence, and ‘yes’ to brotherhood and reconciliation.”

Turkey is still dealing with the aftershocks of a coup attempt that began on July 15, in which at least 265 people were killed.

Though the effort sputtered in a matter of hours, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded with a monthslong crackdown targeting dissidents across Turkish society. In addition to arresting thousands of military personnel suspected of involvement in the coup, hundreds of thousands of civil servants, educational workers and journalists have been suspended.

The coup and the assassination of Ambassador Andrey G. Karlov of Russia in Ankara on Dec. 19 raised concerns that the country’s security establishment has grown ineffective. The internal turmoil also raised doubts about how well Turkey would be able to participate in international counterterrorism efforts, especially against the Islamic State.

Since the crackdown began, protests against Mr. Erdogan have led to frequent clashes between demonstrators and the police. And reports of targeted attacks against civilians after martial law was declared in July have revived painful memories of the political violence Turkey experienced in the 1970s and 1980s.

Turkey’s struggles with security had already grown severe months before the coup attempt. A spate of suicide bombings and other attacks since 2015 was capped off by the June 28 attack on Istanbul Ataturk Airport, the country’s busiest. The attack left 45 people dead.

A Kurdish militant group claimed responsibility for a double bombing that killed 39 people and wounded 154 outside a soccer stadium in Istanbul on Dec. 10. That death toll ultimately climbed to 45.

A car bombing in central Turkey killed 13 soldiers and wounded more than 50 other members of the military on Dec. 17. Two days later, Mr. Karlov was assassinated.

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Kabul seeks closure of Taliban’s Qatar office

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Taliban office in Qatar
Taliban office in Qatar (Photo- The Newyork Times)

Doha, Feb 24: Kabul has started discussions with the Qatari government to close the Taliban office in Doha as it has had “no positive consequence in terms of facilitating the peace talks with the group in Afghanistan”, a senior government official has said.

“There is no need to keep the office open”, said Mohammad Hanif Atmar, National Security Advisor to President Ashraf Ghani, in an interview with Middle East newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat earlier this week.

“The aim behind opening (Taliban’s) Qatar office was to start official peace negotiations with the terror group from the address, but so far no official negotiation from the office has been started with government. Even a single step has not been taken forward in the peace process through this office,” Qadir Shah, a spokesman for Atmar’s office said.

“It had no benefit for us even after seven years… It is better to close it,” Atmar said.

He also said that Kabul has so far witnessed no sign of “sincere” cooperation from Islamabad in counter-terrorism efforts.

The Taliban had earlier reached out to the US with an offer for talks and urged people to pressurize Washington to bring an end to the invasion of Afghanistan.

The Taliban had said that they preferred to resolve the conflict that began in 2001 through peaceful dialogue and warned that the use of force alone would complicate the problem in Afghanistan.

The group had called on the “American people and the peace-loving Congressmen” to pressurize US leadership to end the occupation of the Asian country, a precondition that Taliban has always maintained to begin any negotiation.

IANS

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Moon’s water may be widely distributed: Study

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Washington, Feb 24: A new analysis of data from India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter suggests that Moon’s water may be widely distributed across the surface, not confined to a particular region or type of terrain.

The water appears to be present day and night, though it was not necessarily easily accessible, according to the study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

“We find that it doesn’t matter what time of day or which latitude we look at, the signal indicating water always seems to be present,” said Joshua Bandfield, a senior research scientist with the Space Science Institute in the US, and lead author of the new study.

“The presence of water doesn’t appear to depend on the composition of the surface, and the water sticks around,” Bandfield added.

The results contradict some earlier studies, which had suggested that more water was detected at the Moon’s polar latitudes and that the strength of the water signal waxes and wanes according to the lunar day (29.5 Earth days).

The findings could help researchers understand the origin of the Moon’s water and how easy it would be to use as a resource.

If the Moon has enough water, and if it is reasonably convenient to access, future explorers might be able to use it as drinking water or to convert it into hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel or oxygen to breathe.

The new finding of widespread water suggests that it may be present primarily as OH, a more reactive relative of H2O that is made of one oxygen atom and one hydrogen atom.

OH, also called hydroxyl, does not stay on its own for long, preferring to attack molecules or attach itself chemically to them. Hydroxyl would therefore have to be extracted from minerals in order to be used.

For the study, the researchers analysed data from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper spectrometer onboard the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft.

They came up with a new way to incorporate important temperature information, creating a detailed model from measurements made by the Diviner instrument on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO.

The researchers are still discussing what the findings tell them about the source of the Moon’s water.

The results point toward OH and/or H2O being created by the solar wind hitting the lunar surface, though the team did not rule out that OH and/or H2O could come from the Moon itself, slowly released from deep inside minerals where it has been locked since the Moon was formed.

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S.Korea welcomes new US sanctions on N.Korea

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American President, Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un,

Seoul, Feb 24: South Korea on Saturday welcomed fresh unilateral sanctions described as the heaviest ever adopted by the US against North Korea, and said the measures would contribute towards the common goal of the denuclearisation of Pyongyang in a peaceful manner.

The US Treasury Department on Friday imposed the new economic sanctions on 27 companies and 28 vessels located or registered in numerous countries, trading with North Korea, reports Efe news.

“(The sanctions) were a reaffirmation of the US side’s will to move towards a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue,” a South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson told Yonhap news agency.

Seoul considers the measures to be a part of the efforts “to set the North onto a path towards denuclearization” and expressed the hope of continuing its cooperation at all levels with the US in order to resolve the North Korean issue in a peaceful manner.

US President Donald Trump said on Friday that if the new sanctions on North Korea “don’t work, we’ll have to go phase two”, which he said could be “a very rough thing”.

The latest sanctions from Washington come at a moment of thaw in inter-Korean relations owing to the Winter Olympics, currently under way in South Korea’s PyeongChang county.

The sanctions coincide with a trip to South Korea by the US president’s daughter and advisor Ivanka Trump to attend the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics on Sunday, which will also be attended by a high-level delegation from Pyongyang.

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