An explosion occurred on Friday at a mosque filled with worshiping Shia Muslims in northern Afghanistan, leaving at least 25 dead and dozens injured in the latest security challenge to the Taliban as they pass from the insurgency to governance.
The explosion ravaged a mosque in Kunduz town during midday prayers, the highlight of Muslim religious week. He blew up windows, charred the ceiling, and scattered debris and twisted metal on the floor. Rescuers carried one body on a stretcher and another in a blanket. Blood stains covered the steps.
Local resident Hussaindad Rezayee said he rushed to the mosque when he heard the explosion, just as prayers were starting. “I came to look for my relatives, the mosque was full,” he said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for what Kunduz police said was a suicide bombing. But militants from a local branch of the Islamic State have long attacked ethnic and religious minorities in Afghanistan.
The worshipers targeted on Friday were Hazaras, who have long suffered from double discrimination as an ethnic minority and as followers of Shia Islam in a predominantly Sunni country.
The Islamic State group has been behind an upsurge in attacks, especially against the Taliban, since the departure of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan in late August. ISIS and the Taliban, who took control of the country with the departure of foreign troops, are strategic rivals. IS militants have targeted Taliban positions and tried to recruit members into their ranks.
In the past, the Taliban have succeeded in containing the threat of ISIS in tandem with US and Afghan airstrikes. Without it, it remains unclear whether the Taliban can suppress what appears to be a growing IS footprint. The militants, once confined to the east, have entered the capital of Kabul and other provinces with further attacks.
It comes at a critical time, as the Taliban attempt to consolidate their power and transform their guerrillas into a structured police and security force. But as the group attempts to project an air of authority through reports of raids and arrests of ISIS operatives, it remains unclear whether it has the capacity to protect easy targets, including religious institutions.
In Kunduz, the police were still picking up the pieces on Friday at the Gozar-e-Sayed Abad mosque.
Citing preliminary reports, Kunduz province Taliban deputy police chief Dost Mohammad Obaida said more than 100 people were killed or injured, and he believed the dead outnumbered the injured. . Within hours of his initial statement, police still had not provided an update.
An official from Kunduz Provincial Hospital said at least 25 people were killed and 51 injured in the attack. He said the figures were preliminary as victims were also being transferred to private hospitals. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Even the preliminary death toll of 25 is already the highest in an attack since foreign troops left Afghanistan.
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan condemned the attack as part of a worrying pattern of violence targeting religious institutions.
Obaida, the deputy chief of police, is committed to protecting the minorities in the province. “I assure our Shiite brothers that the Taliban are ready to ensure their safety,” he said.
A prominent Shiite cleric, Sayed Hussain Alimi Balkhi, condemned the attack and called on the Taliban to ensure the safety of the Shiites in Afghanistan. “We expect government security forces to ensure the security of mosques since they have collected the weapons that have been provided for the security of places of worship,” he said.
The new tone set by the Taliban, at least in Kunduz, contrasts sharply with the well-documented history of Taliban fighters committing a litany of atrocities against minorities, including the Hazaras. The Taliban, now feeling the clout of the government, have used tactics similar to ISIS during their 20-year insurgency, including suicide bombings and ambushes.
And they did not stop the attacks against the Hazaras.
Earlier this week, an Amnesty International report revealed that the Taliban illegally killed 13 Hazaras, including a 17-year-old girl, in Daykundi province after the surrender of former government security forces .
In Kunduz province, the Hazaras make up about 6% of the province’s population of nearly one million people. The province also has a large ethnic Uzbek population that has been targeted for recruitment by ISIS, which is closely linked to the militant Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Friday’s attack was the third to target a place of worship or religious study in a week.
IS also claimed responsibility for two deadly attacks in Kabul, including the horrific attack on August 26 that killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 US servicemen outside Kabul airport in the final days of the chaotic American withdrawal. from Afghanistan.
IS also claimed responsibility for a Sunday bombing outside Kabul’s Eid Gah mosque, which left at least five civilians dead. Another attack on a madrassa, a religious school, in Khost province on Wednesday was not claimed.
If Friday’s attack is claimed by ISIS, it will also worry the northern Central Asian neighbors of Afghanistan and Russia, which has been wooing the Taliban for years as an ally against rampant ISIS. In the region.