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A guide to the Pakistani Taliban's 'reign of terror' ahead of elections

With Pakistani elections looming on May 11, it seems like every day brings a new report about destabilizing attacks in the country. The unrelenting violence, which Pakistan's Express Tribune has dubbed the "Reign of Terror," includes assassinations that have delayed elections in several districts and left a staggering number of casualties. Bloomberg has compiled the most thorough timeline of the attacks and estimates that, in the past month, "at least 118 people have been killed and 494 injured."

Terrorists -- mostly from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), but also Baluchi separatists -- have pursued politicians in particular, and candidates have been gunned down in the streets. On May 3, Saddiq Zaman Khattak, a parliamentary candidate for the secular Awami National Party (ANP), was shot and killed along with his three-year-old son while returning from Friday prayers in Karachi. Gunmen ambushed ANP candidate Muhammad Islam on April 27, killing his brother in the attack. And Fakhrul Islam, a provincial assembly candidate for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party in Hyderabad, was assassinated by the TTP on April 11.

Bombings, some of which have targeted candidates, have also indiscriminately killed their supporters. The deadliest blast killed at least 20 individuals at an ANP rally on April 16. The attacks have targeted election events, but also included car bombings and bomb and grenade attacks on campaign offices and potential polling places. Just today, gunmen abducted Ali Haider Gilani, a provincial assembly candidate for the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, after killing his bodyguards. It is the first time a candidate has been kidnapped in the rash of attacks.

"It is pretty clear that this is the most violent election I have witnessed in 23 years" of election monitoring in Pakistan, Peter Manikas of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs told the Washington Post. "It's a different type of violence in trying to disrupt the election as a whole. It makes everything unsafe."

Early in April, the TTP singled out three political parties -- ANP, MQM, and PPP -- as the targets of their attacks, but in the past week, not even the fundamentalist Jamiat-e-Ulema (JeU) party has been spared. On May 6, a JeU rally was bombed in Kurram, killing 25, though a TTP spokesman was quick to assert that the Taliban didn't oppose the party so much as the candidate, "who they said had betrayed Arab fighters to U.S. agents," according to Reuters. The next day, a suicide bombing in Hangu targeting another JeU rally killed 10. In a new statement quoted by Reuters, TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud expressed opposition to the political process as a whole, writing, "We don't accept the system of infidels which is called democracy."

The worst violence may in fact be yet to come, as Pakistanis head to the polls this weekend. TTP pamphlets posted in Karachi are warning potential voters to stay home, the Telegraph reports. "If you stay away you will protect yourself," one reads. "If not you are responsible for your fate.... If you go there you will be responsible for the loss of your life and your loved ones." In anticipation of attacks, more than 600,000 security personnel will be on duty for the elections, with five to ten guards at each polling place, according to the Associated Press.

It's a far cry from the atmosphere you'd hope for to mark the first time in Pakistani history that a democratically elected civilian government has finished its term.

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Have other countries experienced kidnap cases like Cleveland's?

Held captive in a dilapidated house in Cleveland for a decade, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight were allegedly raped and beaten by Ariel Castro, who now faces multiple charges of kidnapping and rape. The harrowing story of the women's captivity and miraculous escape has captivated the United States -- and the world. But just how exceptional a case is it?

Both in the United States and abroad, women are regularly imprisoned, used as sex slaves, and subjected to terrible violence. A 2012 International Labor Organization study found that 4.5 million people around the world are victims of forced sexual exploitation, and that 98 percent of these are women (79 percent of victims were adults, and 21 percent children). The ILO mapped overall forced labor by region in the graphic below:

 

Still, these statistics only capture sexual exploitation for profit -- not cases in which women are locked up and preyed upon by their captors. There's less data on these types of incidents, but they have certainly cropped up around the world as well.

Take the case of Natascha Kampusch in Austria. Abducted as a 10-year-old in 1998 -- on the first day her mother allowed her to walk to school on her own -- Kampusch grew up in captivity outside Vienna under the stern eye of her master, Wolfgang Priklopil, a communications technician. Kept in a tiny cell at night, Kampusch was subjected to repeated beatings, compelled to do housework half-naked, and kept weak and malnourished. The sexual abuse, she says, was minor; rather, she served as another character in Priklopil's delusions (he saw her as his loyal Aryan companion). They sometimes shared meals, and once went skiing together. Convinced that Priklopil would kill her, himself, and any bystanders if she tried to escape, Kampusch grew too afraid to run away.

On Aug. 23, 2006, however, Kampusch, now 18, was vacuuming Priklopil's car in the driveway of their house when he stepped away to take a phone call. Leaving the vacuum running to mask her escape, Kampusch walked away on an impulse. When Priklopil realized she had escaped, he confessed to his best friend and then stepped in front of a train, killing himself. When Kampusch learned of his death, she says she didn't cry but did get emotional. "He was part of my life," she explained. "That is why in a certain way I did mourn him." Kampusch, who wrote a memoir entitled 3,096 Days in Captivity (a film adaptation is in the works) and briefly hosted a talk show, has expressed interest in becoming a psychologist one day.

Though the Kampusch case received a great deal of attention in Austria, the media frenzy surrounding it paled in comparison with the case of Josef Fritzl, who imprisoned his 18-year-old daughter, Elisabeth, in his cellar in Amstetten, Austria in 1984 and used her as his sex slave, fathering seven children with her over the course of the next two decades. Fritzl told his wife Rosemarie that their daughter had run away to join a cult and left three of her children, whom Josef and Rosemarie raised, at their doorstep when she was unable to care for them. Three other children (the seventh died shortly after birth, and was tossed in an incinerator) finally escaped when one had to be taken to the hospital. The three kids -- ages 19, 18, and 5 -- who emerged from Fritzl's cellar in 2008 had never before seen daylight. Fritzl was imprisoned for life in 2009, while the other family members have moved to an undisclosed location and been given new identities, according to AFP.

The sensational nature of the Fritzl case has obscured more common occurrences of women being held for long periods against their will. In 2000, for instance, Japanese police freed Fusako Sano, a 19-year-old woman who had been held for nine years by a man living with his mother and surfaced after visiting a hospital. Earlier this year, Indian police discovered that a 21-year-old woman had been held captive by a group of men for over a year and forced into prostitution.

And these are just some of the cases we know about.

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