KABUL – A huge explosion ripped through a Shia Muslim mosque in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar during Friday prayers, killing at least 33 people and injuring 73, officials said, the second massive attack in a week targeting minority cult worshipers.
A local reporter in Kandahar told Reuters that eyewitnesses had described three suicide bombers, one of whom blew himself up at the entrance to the mosque while the other two detonated their devices inside the building.
“The situation is very bad. Mirwais hospital sends messages and encourages young people to donate blood, ”he said, referring to a local hospital where the dead and wounded had been taken.
A health official gave figures of 33 dead and 73 wounded and said the final figure could be higher. No responsibility was immediately taken for the attack. Interior Ministry spokesman Qari Saeed Khosti of the ruling Taliban movement said authorities were gathering details.
The blast took place a few days after an attack claimed by Islamic State militants, who killed dozens of Shia worshipers at a mosque in the northern city of Kunduz. The full death toll from that attack has been estimated to be as high as 80.
Sunni Muslim fighters from Islamic State have repeatedly attacked Shia Muslims in the past. The Taliban are also strict Sunni Muslims, but have promised to protect all ethnic and sectarian groups since coming to power in August when US forces withdrew.
The Iranian embassy, Afghanistan’s neighbor and the region’s largest Shiite power, condemned the attack.
“We hope Taliban leaders take decisive action against these wicked terrorist incidents,” it read in a tweet.
Taliban special forces arrived to secure the site and an appeal went out to the residents to donate blood to the wounded.
The blast, which came so shortly after the Kunduz attack, underscored the increasingly insecure security in Afghanistan as the Taliban struggle with an escalating economic and humanitarian crisis that threatens millions with hunger.
Islamic State’s local subsidiary, known as Islamic State Khorasan after an old name for the region that covers Afghanistan, has escalated attacks following the Taliban’s victory over the Western-backed government in Kabul in August.
Taliban officials have downplayed the threat from Islamic State and rejected proposals that they could accept US aid to fight the group. But the repeated attacks have weakened their claim to have brought peace to Afghanistan after four decades of war.
The fact that the Shia Muslim minority has been hit again may also create tensions among ethnic and sectarian groups in the predominantly Sunni Muslim country. Most Shia Muslims in Afghanistan belong to the Hazara ethnic group of Persians, who have previously complained of persecution under the predominantly Pashtun-speaking Taliban.