KABUL, Nov 22, (Agencies): Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a crowded mosque in Kabul on Monday that killed more than 30 people and wounded dozens, its third major attack on minority Shi’ites in the Afghan capital since July. Officials said the attacker entered the Baqir-ul-Olum mosque shortly after midday as worshippers gathered for Arbaeen, a Shi’ite ritual marking the end of a 40-day mourning period for the 7th-century death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).
A statement in Arabic from Islamic State’s Amaq news agency said one of its fighters had attacked the mosque. Bloody sectarian rivalry between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims has been relatively rare in Afghanistan, a majority Sunni country, but the attack underlines the deadly new dimension that growing ethnic tension could bring to its decades-long conflict.
Fraidoon Obaidi, chief of the Kabul police Criminal Investigation Department, said at least 27 people had been killed and 35 wounded, while the United Nations said at least 32 had been killed and more than 50 wounded, including many children. “I saw people screaming and covered in blood,” one survivor told Afghanistan’s Ariana Television, adding that around 40 dead and 80 wounded had been taken from the building before rescue services arrived at the scene. Another witness said he had helped to carry 30-35 bodies from the mosque. Islamic State, based mainly in the eastern state of Nangarhar on the border with Pakistan, has gradually expanded its reach since emerging in Afghanistan last year.
Prior to Monday, it had claimed responsibility for two major attacks on Shi’ite targets in Kabul, including a suicide bombing which killed more than 80 people at a demonstration by the mainly Shi’ite Hazara community, the worst single attack on civilians since 2001. Last month, it claimed an attack in which 18 people were killed when a gunman in police uniform opened fire on worshippers gathered at a shrine in Kabul for Ashura, one of the holiest occasions in the Shi’ite calendar.
At least 14 people were killed in an attack on a Shi’ite mosque in northern Balkh province, for which no group has so far claimed responsibility. Meanwhile, a suicide bomber struck a Shiite mosque in the Afghan capital on Monday, killing 32 people, the UN office said, the second large-scale attack targeting minority Shiites in Kabul in just over a month. Hours later, the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, a US monitoring service that tracks militant postings.