Suicide Bomber Kills Soldiers and Child (Afghanistan)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide bomber blew himself up as an Afghan army convoy slowed to pass a pothole-riddled section of road Friday in eastern Afghanistan, killing four soldiers and a child, a defense official said.

Four other soldiers were wounded in the attack, about eight miles west of Khost city, said Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi.

Suicide bombers frequently target military convoys, but civilian passers-by are often killed in such attacks.

Insurgency related violence has killed more than 1,200 people — mostly militants — so far this year, according to an Associated Press tally of figures from Western and Afghan officials.

In eastern Kunar province, meanwhile, deputy police chief Abdul Sabor Allayer said a rocket hit a schoolyard on Wednesday in Asmor district, killing one student and wounding four others. The victims were between eight and 14 years old.

Afghanistan’s Education Minister said earlier this year that the number of students and teachers killed in Taliban attacks spiked in the past year in a campaign to close schools and force teenage boys to join the Islamic militia. UNICEF says 236 school-related attacks occurred last year.

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Afghan journalism student facing death over alleged Islam insult says he was tortured

KABUL, Afghanistan: An Afghan journalism student sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Islam told an appeals court Sunday he confessed to writing materials that questioned the religion’s treatment of women because he was tortured. He denied all charges against him.

During a packed hour-long hearing, a judge read a transcript of the proceedings against 24-year-old Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh on Jan. 22 at a lower court in northern Balkh province.

It was the first time that full details have been revealed of the closed-door trial, which reflected the influence of conservative religious attitudes in post-Taliban Afghanistan’s nascent justice system. The verdict sparked an international outcry.

Kambakhsh was studying journalism at Balkh University in Mazar-i-Sharif and writing for local newspapers when he was arrested Oct. 27.

The transcript said he disrupted his university classes by asking questions about women’s rights under Islam. It also said he distributed an article on the subject and wrote an additional three paragraphs for the piece.

The only people with him in the courtroom during the January hearing in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif were three judges, a court scribe and the prosecutor. Kambakhsh said he had no defense lawyer, and only three minutes to defend himself.

He was transferred to Pul-e Charkhi prison on March 27, and his case was moved to Kabul, where rights groups believed he would have a fair trial.

On Sunday, Kambakhsh spoke in the appeals court in Kabul, again without a defense lawyer.

“I’m Muslim, and I would never let myself write such an article. All these accusations are nonsense,” he said, standing before the judge and addressing the court through a microphone in an emotional 15-minute statement.

“These accusations come from two professors and other students because of private hostilities against me. I was tortured by the intelligence service in Balkh province, and they made me confess that I wrote three paragraphs in this article.”

He did not give any further details about the alleged torture.

Saied Ansari, spokesman for the intelligence service, said it had not received any official information on Kambakhsh’s allegations and declined comment.

According to the Balkh court proceedings, the prosecutor said Kambakhsh admitted writing three paragraphs of the article and had initialed them.

He also was accused of writing, “This is the real face of Islam. … The Prophet Muhammad wrote verses of the holy Quran just for his own benefit.”

Prosecutor Ahmad Khan Ayar told the appeals court that the primary court sentence was “the right decision” according to Islamic law and the Afghan Constitution.

“Kambakhsh has insulted Islam by writing these paragraphs, and he has insulted the Prophet Muhammad,” Ayar said. “I ask the appeals court today to uphold the decision of the primary court of Balkh and sentence him to death.”

A number of rights groups have demanded that the case be annulled and Kambakhsh set free. A U.S. State Department spokesman expressed concern that Kambakhsh was sentenced to death for “basically practicing his profession.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said it was concerned that Kambakhsh may have been targeted because his brother, Yaqub Ibrahimi, had written about human rights violations and local politics.

Ibrahimi said the family approached more than 10 lawyers who were initially willing to take on the case but later changed their minds.

A week after Kambakhsh was sentenced, lawmakers in the upper house of Parliament lauded the verdict. Conservative clerics and tribal elders have demanded that the government support the court’s decision.

More than 150 people — including several Western observers and more than 20 journalists — filled the courtroom Sunday to view the proceedings.

Kambakhsh said he did not believe he needed a defense lawyer for his appeal because he had not done anything wrong, but when pressed by the judges on the matter he said he would like to have one.

The head of the three-judge panel, Abdul Salaam Qazizada, adjourned the trial until next Sunday to allow Kambakhsh to meet a lawyer and prepare a written defense.

Afghan media have flourished since the fall of the hard-line Taliban regime following a U.S.-led invasion in 2001. Newspapers and TV and radio stations have opened nationwide.

But journalists face violence for news stories that criticize government leaders, warlords and religious clerics or challenge their often authoritarian views.