A suicide bomber killed five senior commanders of the powerful Revolutionary Guard and at least 37 others yesterday near the Pakistani border in the heartland of a potentially escalating Sunni insurgency.
The attack, which also left dozens wounded, was the most high-profile strike against security forces in an outlaw region of armed tribal groups, drug smugglers and Sunni rebels known as Jundallah, or Soldiers of God.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised sharp retaliation. But a sweeping offensive by authorities is unlikely.
Iranian officials have been reluctant to open full-scale military operations in the southeastern border zone, fearing it could become a hotspot for sectarian violence with the potential to draw in al-Qaida and Sunni militants from nearby Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The region’s top prosecutor, Mohammad Marzieh, was quoted by the semi-official ISNA news agency as saying Jundallah claimed responsibility for the blast in the Pishin district near the Pakistani border.
There was no immediate statement directly from the group, which has carried out sporadic kidnappings and attacks in recent years — including targeting the Revolutionary Guard — to press their claims of persecution in the Shiite government and officials.
In May, Jundallah said it sent a suicide bomber into a Shiite mosque in the southeastern city of Zahedan, killing 25 worshippers.
The latest attack, however, would mark the group’s highest-level target. It also raised questions about how the attacker breached security around such a top delegation from the Revolutionary Guard — the country’s strongest military force, which is directly linked to the ruling clerics under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The official Islamic Republic News Agency said the victims included the deputy commander of the Guard’s ground forces, Gen. Noor Ali Shooshtari, as well as a chief provincial Guard commander, Rajab Ali Mohammadzadeh. The others killed were Guard members or tribal leaders, it said.
The agency quoted the provincial forensics director, Abbas Amian, as saying 42 bodies had been handed over to his department.
More than two dozen others were wounded, state radio reported.
The commanders were entering a sports complex to meet tribal leaders to discuss Sunni-Shiite cooperation when the attacker detonated a belt fitted with explosives, IRNA said.
Ahmadinejad — who counts on support from the Revolutionary Guard — vowed to strike back.
“The criminals will soon get the response for their inhuman crimes,” IRNA quoted him as saying.
But controlling the scrubland and arid hills along the southeastern borders is a huge challenge that has been out of Iran’s reach.
Drug traffickers ferry opium and other narcotics through the cross-border badlands — a key source of income for the Taliban in Afghanistan and the ethnic Baluchi tribes that straddle the three-nation region and include members of Jundallah. Iran has pleaded for more international help to cut off the drug routes and criminal gangs.
Iran also has accused Jundallah of receiving support from al-Qaida and the Taliban, though some analysts who have studied the group dispute such a link.
“There is no evidence of outside help for Jundallah from wider militant networks,” said Mustafa Alani, director of security and terrorism studies at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai. “It’s a homegrown group that moves across the borders within fellow Baluchi tribes. It is very hard to control the border.”
In an attempt to boost security in the region, Iran in April put the Revolutionary Guard directly in control of the Sistan-Baluchistan Province in Iran’s southeastern corner.
The 120,000-strong Guard also controls Iran’s missile program, guards its nuclear facilities and has its own ground, naval and air units.
The Revolutionary Guard led the blanket crackdown on dissident after Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in June. But the attack Sunday appeared to have no link to the political showdowns.
State television accused Britain of supporting Jundallah, without providing any evidence.
The Revolutionary Guard blamed the attack on what it called the “global arrogance,” a reference to the United States.
On the eve of talks about Tehran’s nuclear program, Washington was quick to react.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the United States condemned what he called an “act of terrorism.” Reports of alleged U.S. involvement are “completely false,” he said.
Iran’s parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, told lawmakers that the bombing was aimed at further destabilizing the uneasy border region with Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“The intention of the terrorists was definitely to disrupt security in Sistan-Baluchistan Province,” Larijani said.
Iranian officials summoned Pakistan’s charge d’affairs in Tehran to lodge allegations that “terrorists” use bases in Pakistan to carry out attacks against Iran, IRNA reported.
In Quetta, Pakistan, police official Akbar Sanjrani said Iran had closed at least one border crossing. He said Iranian authorities did not give a reason for blocking the route, but Sanjrani speculated it was related to the bombing.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman, Abdul Basit, also rejected Iranian claims that Jundallah’s leader is in Pakistan.
“We are struggling to eradicate the menace of terrorism,” Basit told Geo TV.
The group also has claimed responsibility for a February 2007 car bombing that killed 11 members of the Revolutionary Guard near Zahedan.
Despite Iran’s claims of an al-Qaida link, Chris Zambelis, a Washington-based risk management consultant who has studied Jundallah, said in a recent article that there is no evidence al-Qaida is supporting the group. He does note, however, that the group has begun to use the kinds of suicide bombings associated with the global terror network.
“Jundallah’s contacts with the Taliban are most likely based on jointly profiting from the illicit trade and smuggling as opposed to ideology,” Zambelis wrote in the July issue of West Point’s CTC Sentinel.
31 States Lack Insurance Cover For Workers
Thirty-one states in the federation have no insurance cover in place for workers as of March, despite the provision of the requirement in the Pension Reform Act 2014.
Figures obtained from PenCom on ‘Status of implementation of the CPS in states as at March 2021’, last Saturday, showed that only five states, including the Federal Capital Territory, have insurance in place for their workers.
Other compliant states are Lagos, Osun, Ondo and Edo, which also have pension schemes for their workers, according to PenCom.
A former President, Trade Union Congress (TUC), Comrade Peter Esele, said it was not appropriate that most states lacked insurance cover for their workers.
Esele stated, “It speaks volumes to the fact that when the private sector has not shown respect for group life insurance, they are actually borrowing a leaf from the state governments.
“Ordinarily, what you should expect is that respect for our laws should be what state governments should be all about, but what they have done now is to show lack of respect for the law and their citizens because, ordinarily, it is in the best interest of not only the workers but also the management, that is, the government.
“It is so that whatever happens, the families of the people working with them are safe. For them not to have done that is sad and discomforting.”
The Director, Centre for Pension Rights Advocacy, Ivor Takor, urged state and local governments to comply fully with the regulations in the CPS.
He expressed worry that most states had yet to comply with the law.
The Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Insurance and Actuarial Matters, Hon Darlington Nwokocha, said the lawmakers were reviewing the insurance laws which would enhance the sector’s performance and assist the implementation of the compulsory insurance laws.
The Director-General, National Pension Commission, Aisha Dahir-Umar, said the commission was engaging states to ensure full compliance with the PRA.
She noted that it had continued to review the implementation of the scheme in the states.
Also, the Commissioner for Insurance, Mr Sunday Thomas, said the National Insurance Commission was seeking compliance on the compulsory insurance schemes.
Thomas stated that NAICOM had visited some of the state governors to solicit the support for compliance with insurance laws.
Also, PenCom, in a recent circular, ordered employers of labour to comply with the Group Life Insurance Policy as stipulated in the Pension Reform Act 2014.
PenCom also ordered employers to display a copy of the GLIP certificate in a conspicuous place within the premises before the end of July 31, 2021.
It stated this in a circular to all employers and employees titled ‘Re: Compliance with PRA 2014 on Group Life Insurance Policy for employees and display of insurance certificate for 2021’.
The commission said, “In accordance with the provisions of Section 4(5) of the Pension Reform Act 2014, every employer shall maintain a Group Life Insurance Policy in favour of all employees.
“The GLIP should be a minimum of three times the annual total emolument of the employees. Similarly, Section 5.5 of the revised guidelines on GLIP for employees provides that the employer shall display a copy of the GLIP certificate in a conspicuous place within its premises, for the information of the employees and as evidence of having taken such policy.
“Employers that have not displayed a copy of the GLIP certificate within their premises are advised to do so on or before 31 July, 2021. Failure to provide GLIP is a violation of Section 4(5) of the Pension Reform Act (PRA) 2014.”
PenCom disclosed that only 15,418 organisations got its clearance to do the business of Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government between January 4 and May 10.
It said the clearance was given to them for having pension accounts and life insurance cover for their employees.
According to the commission, the clearance enables them to do the business of the Federal Government for the 2021 financial year.
PenCom said companies that had no insurance cover for their workers would no longer be allowed to do any government business.
One In 100 Die By Suicide, WHO Alerts
The World Health Organisation (WHO), has said, suicide remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide and responsible for one in 100 deaths globally.
In its latest estimates entitled, “Suicide worldwide in 2019”, WHO noted that every year, more people die as a result of suicide than HIV, malaria or breast cancer or war and homicide.
The latest estimates noted that in 2019, more than 700 000 people died by suicide: one in every 100 deaths, prompting the WHO to produce new guidance to help countries improve suicide prevention and care.
The WHO guidance is to help the world reach the target of reducing the suicide rate by 1/3 by 2030.
Speaking on the new estimates, Director-General of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the world cannot and must not ignore suicide.
“Each one is a tragedy. Our attention to suicide prevention is even more important now, after many months of living with the Covid-19 pandemic, with many of the risk factors for suicide 6 job loss, financial stress and social isolation still very much present.”
He said the new guidance would provide a clear path for stepping up suicide prevention efforts.
“Among young people aged 15-29, suicide was the fourth leading cause of death after road injury, tuberculosis and interpersonal violence. The rates vary, between countries, regions, and between males and females.”
The report also explained that more than twice as many males die due to suicide as females (12.6 per 100 000 males compared with 5.4 per 100 000 females).
“Suicide rates among men are generally higher in high-income countries (16.5 per 100 000). For females, the highest suicide rates are found in lower-middle-income countries (7.1 per 100 000).
Suicide rates in the WHO African (11.2 per 100 000), European (10.5 per 100 000) and South-East Asia (10.2 per 100 000) regions were higher than the global average (9.0 per 100 000) in 2019. The lowest suicide rate was in the Eastern Mediterranean region (6.4 per 100 000).
Globally, the suicide rate is decreasing; in the Americas, it is going up. Suicide rates fell in the 20 years between 2000 and 2019, with the global rate decreasing by 36 per cent, with decreases ranging from 17 per cent in the Eastern Mediterranean Region to 47 per cent in the European Region and 49 per cent in the Western Pacific.
“But in the Americas Region, rates increased by 17 per cent in the same time period. Although some countries have placed suicide prevention high on their agendas, too many countries remain uncommitted.
“Currently only 38 countries are known to have a national suicide prevention strategy.
“A significant acceleration in the reduction of suicides is needed to meet the SDG target of a one-third reduction in the global suicide rate by 2030.”
However, WHO has released comprehensive guidance for implementing its LIVE LIFE approach to suicide prevention. The four strategies of this approach are: limiting access to the means of suicide, such as highly hazardous pesticides and firearms; educating the media on responsible reporting of suicide; fostering socio-emotional life skills in adolescents; and early identification, assessment, management and follow-up of anyone affected by suicidal thoughts and behaviour.
WHO further recommended the banning of the most dangerous pesticides given that pesticide poisoning is estimated to cause 20 per cent of all suicides while national bans of acutely toxic, highly hazardous pesticides have shown to be cost-effective.
Other measures recommended by WHO include restricting access to firearms, reducing the size of medication packages and installing barriers at jump sites.
On responsible reporting by the media, the guide highlighted the role the media plays in relation to suicide.
“Media reports of suicide can lead to a rise in suicide due to imitation (or copycat suicides) – especially if the report is about a celebrity or describes the method of suicide.
“The new guide advises monitoring of the reporting of suicide and suggests that media counteract reports of suicide with stories of successful recovery from mental health challenges or suicidal thoughts. It also recommends working with social media companies to increase their awareness and improve their protocols for identifying and removing harmful content.”
WHO also noted that support for adolescence (10-19 years of age) was a critical period for acquiring socio-emotional skills, particularly since half of the mental health conditions appear before 14 years of age.
“The LIVE LIFE guidance encourages actions including mental health promotion and anti-bullying programmes, links to support services and clear protocols for people working in schools and universities when a suicide risk is identified.
“Early identification, assessment, management and follow-up apply to people who have attempted suicide or are perceived to be at risk. A previous suicide attempt is one of the most important risk factors for future suicide.
“Health-care workers should be trained in early identification, assessment, management and follow-up.
“Survivors’ groups of people bereaved by suicide can complement the support provided by health services. Crisis services should also be available to provide immediate support to individuals in acute distress.
The new guidance, which includes examples of suicide prevention interventions that have been implemented across the world, in countries such as Australia, Ghana, Guyana, India, Iraq, the Republic of Korea, Sweden and the USA can be used by anyone who is interested in implementing suicide prevention activities, whether at the national or local level and in the governmental and non-governmental sectors alike.
On his part, suicide prevention expert at the World Health Organisation, Alexandra Fleischmann said, “While a comprehensive national suicide prevention strategy should be the ultimate goal for all governments, starting suicide prevention with LIVE LIFE interventions can save lives and prevent the heartbreak that follows for those left behind.”
Wike, Others Grace Prof Antonia Omehia’s Thanksgiving
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike and other eminent personalities were among personalities that graced the thanksgiving ceremony in honour of Professor Antonia Celestine Omehia, yesterday.
The thanksgiving organised by former Governor of Rivers State, Sir Celestine Omehia was to mark the conferment of his wife, Professor Antonia with the rank of Professor of Library and Information Science by Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Rumuolumeni.
Professor Antonia Omehia is a lecturer in the Library and Information Science Department of Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Rivers State.
Governor Wike, his deputy, Dr. Ipalibo Harry Banigo, former Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Rt Hon. Austin Opara, former Presidents, Nigeria Bar Association ( NBA) Onueze C.J Okocha (SAN), and Okey Wali (SAN) were among other dignitaries who attended the thanksgiving ceremony at Omehia’s residence in Port Harcourt, yesterday.
Former Governor, Sir Celestine Omehia said his family decided to organise the thanksgiving to honour God for his wife’s unparalleled academic excellence and passion for scholarly research.
He acknowledged that it is not an easy feat to attain the rank of an academic professor. According to him, his family will remain eternally grateful to God for granting his wife the grace of academic excellence.
Former NBA President, Okocha, who spoke on behalf of Rivers’ elders, said Professor Antonia Omehia has indisputably distinguished herself in academics, because professors are scholars that are experts in their fields and teachers of the highest rank in the university.
He heaped praises on Sir Omehia for allowing his wife to soar in her academic pursuit, because most men often feel intimidated when their wives excel in life.
The legal luminary said when women excel in academics, they should be celebrated.
He commended Professor Antonia Omehia for making her husband and children proud by virtue of her unquestionable commitment to academic excellence.
”We are proud of you for honouring our brother.”
Eminent personalities that also attended the thanksgiving included: Chairman of Greater Port Harcourt Development Authority, Chief Ferdinand Anabraba, former Minister of Transportation, Dr. Abiye Sekibo, Senator Mao Ohuabunwa, Senator (Dr) Bennett Birabi, Davies Ikanya among several others.
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