Dozens of people have been killed and more than 70 wounded after a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a mosque in southern Afghanistan today.
The attack took place at Fatemieh mosque in Kandahar, the largest Shiite place of worship in the city, during Friday prayers.
According to a hospital official, at least 37 people have been killed and more than 70 wounded, according to early official tolls, though local sources warned that is likely to rise.
No group has yet claimed responsibility, but it comes a week after an ISIS-K bomb attack on Shiite worshippers in the northern city of Kunduz killed more than 100.
Three bomb blasts hit Fatemieh mosque, believed to be the largest Shiite house of prayer in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, during Friday prayers – killing dozens of people
Witnesses said one bomb exploded near the entrance to the mosque, while another exploded in an area where people wash themselves
Witnesses to today’s attack reported hearing multiple explosions in different parts of the mosque, though officials only confirmed the presence of one suicide bomber.
Murtaza, who and 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 prayers at the mosque typically draw about 500 people.
However, officials added they ‘have launched an investigation to find out more.’
Medical sources said least 15 ambulances rushing to the scene to collect the wounded, while a local doctor told AFP that hospitals are ‘overwhelmed’.
“There are too many dead bodies and wounded people brought to our hospital. We are expecting more to come,’ he said.
‘We are in urgent need of blood. We have asked all the local media in Kandahar to ask people to come and donate blood.’
A local resident who identified himself only as Ahmadullah said: ‘Firing started after we ended the prayers. Then two or three explosions took place.
‘Many people, martyred and wounded, were laying there. I don’t know what happened later.’
ISIS-K is the terror group’s Afghanistan branch and has stepped up attacks in Afghanistan since the Taliban retook control in August.
The latest attack is significant because it took place in Kandahar, the ancestral homeland of the Taliban.
Many Afghans backed the Taliban retaking control of the country because they believed the Islamist group could bring security and stability.
The attack on Kandahar (pictured) comes exactly a week after an explosion hit another Shiite mosque in Kunduz, killing more than 100
A man walks through a partially destroyed corridor at the Fatemieh mosque – also known as Imam Bargah – after it was hit by three bomb blasts on Friday
Shiites make up roughly 10 percent of the Afghan population and many of them are from the Hazara ethnic group.
Shiite Muslims are frequent targets of ISIS, whose followers are Sunni and view the former sect as effectively traitors to the faith.
The Taliban, who are also Sunni, have their own history of persecuting Shiites and particularly the Hazara – who fought against the group when it first emerged.
Interior ministry spokesman Qari Sayed Khosti tweeted: ‘We are saddened to learn that an explosion took place in a mosque of the Shiite brotherhood in the first district of Kandahar city in which a number of our compatriots were martyred and wounded.
‘Special forces of the Islamic Emirate have arrived in the area to determine the nature of the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice.’
According to an AFP journalist the mosque was full of people at the time of the explosions, and at least 15 ambulances went to the scene.
Graphic images posted to social media, which could not be immediately verified, showed bodies lying on the floor of the Fatemieh mosque.
ISIS-K claimed responsibility for last week’s bomb blast, and frequently targets Shiite Muslims because they do not subscribe to its fundamentalist vision of Islam
ISIS-K has links to the Taliban through the Haqqani Network – a mercenary force run by the Haqqani family, whose members form part of the new Afghan government.
But the two groups are ideologically opposed and have been at war with each-other since 2015, when ISIS-K was established in Afghanistan.
Formed at the height of ISIS’s so-called Caliphate across Iraq and Syria, ISIS-K was intended to extend the group’s reach into Afghanistan.
It poached fighters from Taliban ranks who believed the group was not extreme enough, causing a rift between the group’s leaders.
Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, a senior Taliban figure, then wrote a missive to ISIS spiritual leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi suggesting that any expansion of the ISIS caliphate into Afghanistan should happen only under the Taliban banner.
This caused fighting to break out between the two groups, which continued until 2019 when a series of defeats effectively stopped ISIS-K fighting traditional battles.
When signing an Afghan peace deal with Donald Trump in Doha in 2020, the Taliban pledged to keep terror groups including ISIS-K out of Afghanistan.