KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Suicide bombers attacked a Shiite mosque filled with worshipers who attended Friday prayers in southern Afghanistan, killing at least 47 people and wounding 70, a Taliban official said. It was the deadliest day since the withdrawal of the U.S. military.
Responsibility for the massacre at the Fatimiya Mosque in Kandahar province was not immediately assumed. The attack came a week after a bomb attack claimed by the local Islamic State affiliation killed 46 people in a Shiite mosque in northern Afghanistan.
The sectarian bloodshed has created fears that IS – an enemy of both the Taliban and the West – is expanding its foothold in Afghanistan.
Hafiz Sayeed, the Taliban’s head of Kandahar’s Department of Culture and Information, said 47 people had been killed and at least 70 injured in the attack.
Murtaza, a worshiper who, like many Afghans, goes by one name, said he was inside the mosque during the attack and reported four explosions: two outside and two inside. He said Friday prayer in the mosque typically draws hundreds of people.
Another witness, also named Murtaza, was in charge of security at the mosque and said he saw two bombers. He said one detonated explosives outside the gate and the other was already among the worshipers inside the mosque.
He said the mosque’s security personnel shot another suspected attacker outside.
Video footage showed corpses scattered across blood-stained blankets, with survivors walking around dozing or crying with anxiety.
The Shiite assembly in Ahl al-Bayt, a global religious community, condemned the attack in Kandahar and accused the security forces in Afghanistan of being “unable” to deal with such abuses.
The Islamic State group, which, like Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban, is made up of Sunni Muslims, considers Shiite Muslims to be apostates who deserve death.
IS has claimed a series of deadly bombings across the country since the Taliban seized power in August amid the withdrawal of US forces. The group has also targeted Taliban fighters in minor attacks.
If the attack was carried out by IS, it would be the first major attack by the extremist group in southern Afghanistan since the departure of the United States enabled the Taliban to consolidate control over the country. Recent attacks in the north, east and the Afghan capital have cast doubt on the Taliban’s ability to counter the IS threat.
Neighboring Pakistan, which has called on world leaders to work with the ruling Taliban, condemned the “heinous attacks on places of worship” in a statement from its foreign ministry.
The Taliban has promised to restore peace and security after decades of war and has also given assurances to the United States that it will not allow the country to be used as a base to launch extremist attacks on other countries.
The Taliban has also promised to protect Afghanistan’s Shiite minorities, who were persecuted during the last period of Taliban rule in the 1990s.
Both the Taliban and IS adhere to a rigid interpretation of Islamic law, but IS is far more radical with better-known divisions in Iraq and Syria.
And while the Taliban say they are creating an Islamic state in Afghanistan, within that country’s borders, IS says it is THE Islamic State, a global caliphate, that they insist all Muslims must support. It despises the Taliban’s nationalist goals and does not recognize them as a purely Islamic movement.
Akhgar reported from Istanbul.