Kabul, Afghanistan (AP) – At least 100 people were killed or injured in an explosion on Friday at a mosque in northern Afghanistan among Shia Muslim worshipers, a Taliban police official said.
Responsibility for the blast in Kunduz, the capital of Kunduz province, was not immediately claimed, but militants from the Islamic State group have a long history of attacking Afghanistan’s Shia Muslim minority.
Dost Mohamed Obaidah, deputy police chief of Kunduz province, said “most of them have been killed.” He said that the attack may have been carried out by a suicide bomber who had mixed with the worshippers.
“I assure my Shia brothers that the Taliban are ready to ensure their safety,” Obaidah said.
If confirmed, dozens of people would have died since US and NATO forces left Afghanistan in late August and the Taliban took control of the country. The Taliban have been targeted in a series of deadly IS attacks, including an ambush and an explosion at a mosque in the capital of Kabul.
The blast took place during the weekly Friday prayers at the Gujar-e-Syed Abad mosque. Friday afternoon prayer is the highlight of the Muslim religious week, and mosques are usually crowded. Witness Ali Raza said he was praying at the time of the blast and reported several casualties.
Afghan men stand near an ambulance after a bomb attack on a mosque in Kunduz on October 8, 2021. (Photo Credit – / AFP) (Photo Credit – / AFP via Getty Images)
Photos and videos from the scene showed rescuers carrying a body wrapped in blankets from the mosque to an ambulance. The stairs to the entrance of the mosque were covered in blood.
Earlier on Friday, Taliban’s chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said a Shia mosque was targeted and a large number of worshipers were killed and injured. He said Taliban special forces have reached the spot and are investigating the incident.
The Taliban leadership is battling a threat associated with the local Islamic State, known as the Islamic State in Khorasan. IS militants have intensified attacks to target their rivals, including two deadly bombings in Kabul.
IS has also targeted Afghanistan’s religious minorities in attacks.
A local Islamic State ally claimed responsibility for a horrific August 26 bombing that killed at least 169 Afghan and 13 US military personnel outside Kabul airport in the final days of a chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Since the US withdrawal, IS attacks have mostly taken place in eastern Afghanistan – the regional base for an IS affiliate – and in Kabul.
Ethnic Hazaras, who are mostly minority Shia Muslims, make up about 6% of Kunduz’s population of approximately one million people. The province also has a large ethnic Uzbek population that has been targeted for recruitment by IS, which is closely associated with the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan.
Friday’s attack, if claimed by IS, would also be a concern for Afghanistan’s northern Central Asian neighbors and Russia, which has been attracting the Taliban for years as an ally against IS creeping into the region .
Akhgar reported from Istanbul. Associated Press writer Cathy Gannon in Islamabad contributed to this report.