50 killed, 18 injured in Bangladesh, Syria, Saudi attacks, stampede

About 50 people were, on Saturday, reportedly killed in Syria and Bangladesh, while 18 others were injured in a stampede involving pilgrims attending this year’s Lesser Hajj at the Holy City of Mecca.

Intensive Syrian air strikes, on Saturday, killed at least 30 civilians in a Damascan suburb town northeast of the city a day after the reported execution of a Syrian air force pilot, said a monitor and rebels.

They said the raids targeted a medical centre, a school and a residential area in Jayrud town, a heavily populated area that struck a local truce with the army that had spared it the heavy bombing on other rebel held areas.

The town, it was gathered was made a sanctuary for thousands of civilians fleeing heavy battles nearby.

The United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said scores were also injured in the aerial strikes as well as shelling from army posts in the area.

A rebel spokesman said the strikes seemed to be in revenge for the killing of a Syrian air force pilot who parachuted down near the town after his plane crashed on Friday.

“The strikes against civilians are in retaliation against the execution of the pilot by Nusra Front,” said Said Seif al Qalamoni from the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA), Shahid Ahmad Abdo brigade that operates in Jayrud alongside the al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and other groups.

Rebels in a joint operations room targeted a main army base in the region with Russian-made surface to surface missiles after the aerial strikes, al Qalamoni said.

Syrian state media said the crash was due to a technical fault and the pilot had ejected, while the rebel group Jaish al-Islam said it shot down the plane, but did not say how.


Islamist militants kill 20 in Bangladesh

In a similar development, Islamist militants killed 20 people, including at least nine Italians, inside an upmarket restaurant in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, before security forces stormed the building and ended a 12-hour standoff on Saturday.

Islamic State said it was responsible for one of the most brazen attacks in the South Asian nation’s history, but that claim has yet to be confirmed.

The attack marks a major escalation in a campaign by militants over the past 18 months that had targeted mostly individuals advocating a secular or liberal lifestyle in majority-Muslim Bangladesh.

The gunmen, who stormed the busy restaurant in Dhaka’s diplomatic area late on Friday night, ordered all Bangladeshis to stand up before they began killing foreigners, a source briefed on the police investigation said.

Among the dead was the wife of an Italian businessman killed with a machete. She was found by her husband after he spent all night hiding behind a tree outside the cafe while the gunmen were inside, said Agnese Barolo, a friend who lives in Dhaka and spoke to him.

Nine Italians were killed in the attack, the country’s foreign minister said, and authorities were trying to confirm the fate of another person missing.

Seven Japanese citizens were unaccounted for, while one Indian, a 19-year-old female student, was killed in the assault, India’s foreign minister said on Twitter.

The killing of foreigners will likely shatter the confidence of the expatriate community in Bangladesh, many of whom work for multinationals in the country’s $26 billion garment industry that accounts for around 15 per cent of the economy. Bangladesh is the world’s second largest apparel exporter after China.


18 injured in Mecca stampede

Eighteen pilgrims have been injured in a stampede near Islam’s holiest site, Saudi media reported on Saturday, as the kingdom continues to review safety after a deadly crush during last year’s hajj.

The incident happened on Friday night near the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Al-Riyadh newspaper said, as Muslims gathered in large numbers to mark the Night of Destiny, one of the high points of the holy month of Ramadan.

All the injured were treated at the scene and none required admission to hospital, the newspaper quoted a health official as saying.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims flock to Mecca to carry out the lesser umra pilgrimage during Ramadan — especially during its last 10 days.

They include the Night of Destiny, when the Angel Gabriel is believed to have given the Prophet Mohammed the verses of the Quran.

The incident comes as Saudi authorities continue to unveil new safety measures for this year’s hajj in September.

A crush at last year’s hajj killed more than 2,000 pilgrims in the worst disaster to ever strike the annual ritual.

According to figures from foreign officials, at least 2,297 pilgrims died. Saudi Arabia issued a death toll of 769.

Newspapers reported on Friday that, among new security measures, hajj pilgrims this year will have to wear an electronic safety bracelet to store their personal information, including address and medical records.

The hajj and umra pilgrimages bring millions of Muslims to the holy places in Saudi Arabia every year.