An explosion went off Friday among Shiite Muslim worshipers at a mosque in northern Afghanistan, killing or wounding at least 100 people, a Taliban police official said.
The blast, for which Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility, took place in Kunduz, the capital of Kunduz province.
In its claim of responsibility, the region’s IS affiliate identified the bomber as a Uygher Muslim, saying the attack targeted both Shiites and the Taliban for their purported willingness to expel Uyghers to meet demands from China. The statement was carried by the IS-linked Aamaq news agency.
Dost Mohammad Obaida, the deputy police chief for Kunduz province, said that the “majority of them have been killed.” He indicated the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber who mingled among the worshipers.
“I assure our Shiite brothers that the Taliban are prepared to ensure their safety,” Obaida said, adding that an investigation was underway.
If confirmed, the death toll would be the highest since US and NATO forces left Afghanistan at the end of August and the Taliban took control of the country. The Taliban have been targeted in a series of deadly IS attacks, including shooting ambushes and an explosion at a mosque in the capital of Kabul.
The explosion went off during the weekly Friday prayer service at the Gozar-e-Sayed Abad Mosque. The Friday noon prayer is the highlight of the Muslim religious week, and mosques are typically crowded.
Earlier Friday, the chief Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the Shiite mosque was the target and that a “large number” of worshipers were killed and wounded. He said Taliban special forces had arrived to the scene and were investigating the incident.
An international aid worker at the MSF hospital in the city told AFP there were fears of further attacks.
“Hundreds of people are gathered at the main gate of the hospital and crying for their relatives but armed Taliban guys are trying to prevent gatherings in case another explosion is planned,” he said.
Witness Ali Reza said he was praying at the time of the explosion and reported seeing many casualties.
Graphic images shared on social media, which could not immediately be verified, showed several bloodied bodies lying on the floor. Pictures showed plumes of smoke rising into the air over Kunduz.
Another video showed men shepherding people, including women and children, away from the scene. Frightened crowds thronged the streets.
انفجار مرگبار در مسجد شیعیان در کندز
منابع محلی از خان آباد کندز به آماج تایید میکنند که انفجار مرگباری در داخل مسجدی مربوط به اهل تشیع رخ داده است. اما تاکنون در مورد شمار دقیق تلفات این انفجار جزییاتی در دست نیست.#آماج_نیوز pic.twitter.com/7wB4TtlLrE
— Aamaj News (@AamajN) October 8, 2021
— Aamaj News (@AamajN) October 8, 2021
Aminullah, an eyewitness whose brother was at the mosque, told AFP: “After I heard the explosion, I called my brother but he did not pick up.
“I walked towards the mosque and found my brother wounded and faint. We immediately took him to the MSF hospital.”
A female teacher in Kunduz told AFP the blast happened near her house, and several of her neighbors were killed. “It was a very terrifying incident,” she said.
“Many of our neighbors have been killed and wounded. A 16-year-old neighbor was killed. They couldn’t find half of his body. Another neighbor who was 24 was killed as well.”
Kunduz’s location makes it a key transit point for economic and trade exchanges with Tajikistan.
It was the scene of fierce battles as the Taliban fought their way back into power this year.
The Taliban leadership has been grappling with a growing threat from the local Islamic State affiliate, known as the Islamic State in Khorasan. IS militants have ramped up attacks to target their rivals, including two deadly bombings in Kabul.
IS has also targeted Afghanistan’s religious minorities in attacks.
The local Islamic State affiliate claimed responsibility for the horrific Aug. 26 bombing that killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 US military personnel outside the Kabul airport in the final days of the chaotic American pullout from Afghanistan.
Since the US pullout, IS attacks have been mostly in eastern Afghanistan — the regional base for the IS affiliate — and in Kabul.
Ethnic Hazaras, who are mostly minority Shiite Muslims, make up about 6% of Kunduz’s population of nearly 1 million people. The province also has a large ethnic Uzbek population that has been targeted for recruitment by the IS, which is closely aligned with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Friday’s attack, if claimed by IS, will also be worrying for Afghanistan’s northern Central Asian neighbors and Russia, which has been courting the Taliban for years as an ally against the creeping IS in the area.