Afghan mosque blast kills dozen as Shiites are targeted again


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Several Islamic State suicide bombers at a mosque in southern Afghanistan killed dozens of people and injured dozens more during Friday Prayer, the second attack of its kind on a Shiite place of worship on consecutive Fridays in the country.

The attack, which witnesses said there had been multiple explosions, took place in the city of Kandahar, believed to be the heart of the restored Taliban government. Khorasan Islamic State, also known as ISIS-K, pleaded responsibility hours later, saying the attack was carried out by two suicide bombers. The terrorist organization said it was behind a similar attack on a Shiite mosque in Kunduz province in the north last week, in which more than 40 people were killed.

Hafiz Saidullah, a Taliban official in charge of the Kandahar culture and information department, said 47 people were killed and at least 68 injured in the latest attack.

Witnesses described a bloody scene inside the mosque after several explosions broke out inside the building.

“We have no idea if it was a suicide bomber or an IED – but it was powerful; Human flesh and blood was seen all over the mosque, ”said one believer, Mohammad Ali, referring to an improvised explosive device.

Mr Ali said the Taliban arrived shortly after the explosion and cordoned off the area. People stood in line to donate blood outside the Mirwais Regional Hospital where the victims were being taken.

Such an attack in a Taliban stronghold risks undermining the Taliban’s commitment to provide security to Afghan citizens following the collapse of the Western-backed government in August.

That promise is becoming increasingly difficult to keep as Taliban fighters are now responsible for securing major urban centers such as Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city, and Kabul, the capital. And it remains unclear whether the Taliban will extend this security pledge to Afghanistan’s Shiite minority, who view the militant Sunni movement as renegades.

“People are very concerned,” said Abdul Wahed Pazhwak, whose shop is only a few hundred meters from the targeted mosque. “It was the first time in Kandahar that they entered the mosque. The chatter among us is what to do if we should emigrate? Should we stay or should we go? “

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, condemned the attack on Friday via Twitter. The government had “ordered the security forces to arrest the perpetrators of such incidents soon and to place them under Sharia law,” he said, expressing its condolences to the families of the victims.

ISIS-K is a Sunni extremist group that has long been present in eastern Afghanistan but has rarely attacked in the south. The terrorist group has primarily targeted Shiite Muslims in the country and has focused heavily on the Hazara ethnic minority, which is predominantly Shiite. Most of Afghanistan is Sunni, and ethnic Pashtuns – who make up most of the Taliban’s ranks – make up a multitude.

The Shiite mosque attacked on Friday was a place of worship for Afghans of various ethnicities, including Hazaras.

ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the suicide attack on the international airport in Kabul on August 26, in which around 170 civilians and 13 US soldiers were killed. She also orchestrated an attack outside a mosque in Kabul this month that killed several people during a memorial service for the mother of Mr. Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman.

This latest attack was a clear indication of the terrorist organization’s newly established reach, which is launching a new campaign of violence against the Afghan people and in some cases against the new Taliban government.

ISIS-K has carried out guerrilla-style attacks and bombings across the country in the past few weeks. In eastern Afghanistan, where Islamic State remained present even after it was almost wiped out in 2019 in a coordinated operation between the United States, Afghan government forces and Taliban fighters, the terrorist group has assumed responsibility for several attacks that it claims to have targeted they target Taliban military units.

The new administration’s ability to contain the ISIS-K threat is one of the conditions for international recognition and the provision of vital aid that could prevent a complete collapse of the Afghan economy.

Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, told The Associated Press last week that the new administration could contain the threat from Islamic State and other terrorist groups and would not accept support from the United States. The spokesman’s remarks came ahead of talks in Doha, Qatar, between US officials and Taliban officials last weekend, the first meeting since the US forces withdrew in August.

“The Taliban must show their determination not to allow Afghan soil to be used by ISIS-K or any other terrorist group that threatens the security of the United States or its allies, let alone innocent Afghans,” the State Department said in a statement to the Times.

“Defeating ISIS-K is certainly in our common interest and we will continue to seek ways to work with the Taliban in these efforts,” the statement said.

For the Shiite minority and many Hazaras in the country, the return of the insurgents and the resurgence of Islamic State heralded another era of uncertainty and horror.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International announced that the Taliban had illegally killed 13 Hazara, including a 17-year-old girl. The Taliban have contested these reports in the media as inaccurate.

During the first Taliban rule in the 1990s, Hazaras were targeted and thousands were killed only to continue and metastasize after the US invasion in 2001 and the growth of ISIS-K in 2015. Hazaras have been particularly critical of the West-backed government in Afghanistan in recent years, as its security forces have done little to protect them from frequent attacks.

Taimoor Shah reported from Kandahar, and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Kabul. Lara Jakes Reporting from Washington and Wali Arian from Istanbul.

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