KABUL, Afghanistan – A blast at a mosque full of Shia Muslim worshipers in northern Afghanistan on Friday killed or injured at least 100 people.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast in Kunduz, the capital of Kunduz Province, but Islamic State militants have a long history of attacking Afghanistan’s Shiite minority.
“Most of them have died,” said Dost Mohammad Obaida, deputy police chief of Kunduz Province. He said the attack may have been carried out by a suicide bomber who mingled with worshipers inside the mosque.
“I assure my Shiite brothers that the Taliban are ready to ensure their safety,” Obaida said.
If confirmed, it would be the deadliest since US and NATO troops withdrew from Afghanistan in late August and the Taliban took control of the country. The Taliban have been targeted in a number of deadly attacks by rival IS militants, including ambushes and bombings at a mosque in the capital, Kabul.
The Kunduz blast took place during the weekly Friday prayers at Gozar Syedabad Mosque. Friday afternoon prayers are a special part of the Muslim religious week, and mosques are usually crowded. Eyewitness Ali Raza said he was praying at the time of the blast and reported many casualties.
Photographs and video of the scene show rescue workers carrying the body wrapped in a blanket from the mosque in an ambulance. The stairs to the mosque door were covered in blood. The blast caused debris to cover the floor and the mosque’s high roof turned black.
Hussain Dad Rezai, a resident of the area, said he fled to the mosque as soon as the blast occurred. “I was busy with construction work at home and when the prayers started, there was an explosion,” he said. “I came to look for my relatives, the mosque was full.”
Earlier on Friday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said a Shiite mosque had been targeted and a “large number” of worshipers had been killed and injured. Taliban special forces have arrived at the scene and are investigating the incident, he said.
The Taliban leadership is battling the threat posed by the local Islamic State, known as the Islamic State in Khorasan. IS militants have stepped up attacks to target rivals, including two recent deadly bombings in Kabul.
IS has also declared war on Afghanistan’s Shiite minority and has claimed responsibility for some of the worst attacks targeting the community, including attacks on their mosques in Kabul and the western province of Herat.
The UN mission in Afghanistan condemned Friday’s attack, saying it was “part of a disturbing pattern of violence” targeting religious institutions.
Earlier, ISIS claimed responsibility for a bomb blast outside Kabul’s Eid Gah mosque on Sunday that killed at least five civilians. No group has claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on a madrassa and a religious school in Khost Province.
The local Islamic State group also claimed responsibility for a horrific August 26 bombing that killed at least 169 Afghan and 13 US troops outside Kabul airport in the last days of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. ۔
Since the US withdrawal, IS attacks have mostly taken place in eastern Afghanistan – an IS-linked regional base – and in Kabul.
In the northern province of Kunduz, the Hazaras, who are predominantly Shia, make up 6% of the province’s population of about 11 million. The province also has a large Uzbek population targeted by IS for recruitment, which is closely linked to the extremist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Friday’s attack, if claimed by IS, would be troubling to Afghanistan’s North Central Asian neighbors and to Russia, which has for years persuaded the Taliban to be an ally against IS in the region. Is.
Akhgar reported from Istanbul. Kathy Gannon, an Associated Press writer in Islamabad, contributed to this report.