/Blast at Afghan Mosque Kills at Least 37 as Shiites Are Targeted Again – The New York Times

Blast at Afghan Mosque Kills at Least 37 as Shiites Are Targeted Again – The New York Times

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A blast at a mosque in southern Afghanistan killed at least 37 people and wounded dozens more during Friday Prayer, officials said, the second such attack on a Shiite place of worship on successive Fridays in the country.

The attack, which witnesses said involved multiple explosions, took place in Kandahar city — considered the heart of the re-established Taliban government. And though no group has yet claimed responsibility, the Islamic State said it was behind a similar strike last week on a Shiite mosque in Kunduz Province, in the north, that left more than 40 people dead.

Shams Samim, a Taliban official in charge of the culture and information media section in Kandahar, said that the latest attack killed 37 people and injured at least 70.

Witnesses described a bloody scene at the mosque.

“We have no idea if it was a suicide bomber or an I.E.D. — but it was powerful; human flesh and blood were seen all around the mosque,” said a worshiper, Mohammad Ali, referring to an improvised explosive device.

Outside Mirwais Regional Hospital, where victims were taken, people were lining up to donate blood.

Mr. Ali said the Taliban arrived shortly after the blast and cordoned off the area. The insurgents have highlighted their ability to provide security to Afghan citizens after the Western-backed government collapsed in August.

But that pledge has become increasingly difficult to uphold as Taliban fighters are now responsible for securing major urban centers like Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, and Kabul, the capital.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, condemned the attack on Friday via Twitter. The government was “ordering the security forces to arrest the perpetrators of such incidents soon and bring them to Sharia law,” he said, while expressing sympathy to the families of the victims.

The Islamic State Khorasan, also known as ISIS-K, is a Sunni extremist group that has long had a presence in Afghanistan’s east but has rarely attacked in the south. The terrorist group has largely targeted Shiite Muslims in the country, focusing 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 — are a plurality.

ISIS-K had claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing at the international airport in Kabul on Aug. 26 that killed about 170 civilians and 13 U.S. troops. It also staged an attack this month outside a mosque in Kabul, which killed several people during a memorial service for the mother of Mr. Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman.

If the Islamic State did indeed carry out the attack on Friday, it would be a significant display of its newly established reach as it begins a reinvigorated campaign of violence against the people of Afghanistan.

For the Shiite minority and many Hazaras in the country, the Taliban’s return to power and the Islamic State’s resurgence have ushered in yet another era of uncertainty and dread.

During the Taliban’s first reign in the 1990s, Hazaras were targeted, only for that to continue and metastasize after the U.S. invasion in 2001 and the growth of ISIS-K in 2015. Hazaras were especially critical of the Western-backed government in Afghanistan in recent years, as its security forces did little to protect them from frequent attacks.

Taimoor Shah reported from Kandahar, and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Kabul.

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