On November 21, over 100 civilians were killed and wounded after a suicide bomber detonated his explosives inside the Shiite mosque, Baqir al-Olum, located in the western part of Kabul during a religious ceremony, commemorating the 40th day of Ashura (also known as Arbaein or Chehlum). The Islamic State Khurasan (affiliated with transnational jihadi group, the Islamic State or Daesh) has claimed responsibility for this deadly sectarian attack, stating that their suicide bomber targeted Shiite mosque in Kabul.
According to a statement by Kabul Police, 27 people were killed and 35 were injured in the incident; however according to Ministry of Public Health, the suicide attack left more than 30 dead and above 80 wounded.
The main target of the suicide bomber was Shia Hazaras, but there were also Shia participants from other ethnic groups of Afghanistan. The victims are civilians including women and children.
Subsequently, the Islamic State media released the picture of Hamza Al-Khurasani, the suicide bomber who reportedly triggered the bloody mayhem against Shiite mourners in Kabul.
The Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahed has denied any involvement of the their group in the attack.
حمله امروزی کابل ربطی به مجاهدین ما ندارد.
— ذبیـــح الله مجاهد (@Zmujahid5) November 21, 2016
Targeted Killing of Shias
This is the third attack on Shiite mourners in Afghanistan in the last 40 days and the loss is massive. Last month, on October 12, Islamic State claimed responsibility for targeting the Karte Sakhi Shia shrine in Kabul, that killed 18 people (Mostly Shia Hazarras) and scores of others were wounded.
Following the attack on Sakhi Shrine, Shiite mourners on the night of Ashura confronted another attack in Mazar-e-Sharif (northern Balkh province) that left 14 dead and over 29 injured.
The Baqir-al-Olum attack is the third targeting Shias in Kabul. Although many believe that Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan has been targeting the Shia Afghans, there are others who blame terrorists who use the so-called Islamic State of Khurasan (ISK) supported from the Pakistani side of the Afghan border. But whoever is behind the attack, it seems that it is highly calculative and is targeting the heart of Afghan unity, which could blow a sectarian conflict in the country.
Hazaras, the main target of the Islamic State’s sectarian agenda
Hazaras of Afghanistan, after facing many political exclusions and discriminations, apparently have found new enemy. The Islamic State’s Afghanistan branch (IS Khurasan) is now considered as enemy of this ethnic group in Afghanistan.
Afghan Hazaras On July 23, 2016, the IS Khurasan perpetrated its first ever attack against in the in the vicinity of Deh Mazang square in Kabul that killed more than 90 people and wounded around 300 civilians.
Following the Dehmazang strikes in July, the ISK took responsibility for attacks on Shiite mourners in Karte Sakhi, Kabul and claimed that their target is Hazara ethnic group of Afghanistan. Again, it claimed responsibility for the last week’s attack on a bus carrying Afghan security personnel that killed and injured nearly 20 personnel.
Reactions to Baqir al-Olum Attack
Senior Afghan politicians reacted to Baqir al-Olum mosque attack that occurred in the West of Kabul. The Presidential Palace condemned the attack in a press release.
President of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan also condemned the brutal attack on worshipers in Baqir al-Olum Mosque in the strongest terms. He blamed Afghanistan’s enemies for the brutal attack and said that the attacks on holy and religious places is an apparent hostility to Islam and the Afghan people, and, our enemies use suicidal strategy to break the chain of unity in Afghanistan.
— ارگ (@ARG_AFG) November 21, 2016
Chief Executive of Afghanistan in a statement wrote, “The brutal terrorist act in the safest and most sacred religious places that targeted Muslims’ shows ISIS’ peak of brutality, cruelty and ignorance, which is not justified under any religion and law. The criminal act that the terrorist groups commit does not represent any religion, ancestry and specific legal value.”
The former President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai called the attack an unforgivable and inhumane act and said, “This is unforgivable and inhumane attack, which is contrary to all the principles and values of Islam. Enemies of Afghanistan must know that Afghans altogether stand against the intrigues of the enemies with determination and strong-will and will fight for a united Afghanistan.”
I condemn in strongest terms the barbaric terrorist attack on our citizens in Kabul. We will stay strong and united. -PK
— Hamid Karzai (@KarzaiH) November 21, 2016
In addition, Atta Mohammad Noor, Governor of Balkh and Chief Executive of Jamiat-e Islami of Afghanistan also called the attack on Baqir al-Olum Mosque an enmity towards people’s religious beliefs. He said, “The attack on Baqir al-Olum Mosque that martyred and injured dozens of innocent people has no logical justification but indicates hostility to religion and religious values of our people.”
Meanwhile, American Embassy in Kabul condemned the attack saying, “We strongly condemn the attack on mourners at Baqir al-Olum Mosque and extend our sincere sympathy to the families and friends of the victims of this cowardly act. The attack was actually an attack on peace and prosperity of Afghanistan and the terrorist should be ashamed of their act.”
Another Strategic Threat
Nangarhar, an eastern province of Afghanistan is the main base of Islamic State. Two years ago, a senior Western military official had stated that perhaps Nangarhar province will be Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) regional base.
Although, earlier this year, the Afghan government claimed that IS’s Khurasan branch is suppressed in Ningarhar province while there are reports showing ISK’ activities and presence in this province.
Ningarhar local officials said that ISK attacked several villages in Pchyragam district, fought with armed civilians and set fire the homes of people.
It seems that the Islamic State Khurasan is not only present in Ningarhar but also in northern and western provinces of Afghanistan. In recent months, their presence in Ghor, a western province has raised further concerns.
Few days ago, people affiliated with ISK shot down a number of civilians in Ghor province that led the president to pay a visit to the province. Two years back, Farah province in the West of Afghanistan was reported to be the centre of Islamic State’s activities.
The Afghanistan’s First Vice President also showed strong reaction to the serious presence and activities of the Islamic State for destabilizing Northern provinces of Afghanistan
According to some critics, whatever has happened in the last two years in Kabul, security officials have only played the role of reporters. The critics say instead of reporting and giving statistics to media, the security officials should be strongly committed to their responsibilities to prevent such brutal attacks.
The criticism arose after Kabul Garrison Commander, every time alerted people of attacks, but did nothing to stop the attacks. Kabul Garrison banned the Enlightenment Movement’s demonstration because of security alerts.
Almost a year back, the most deadly terrorist attacks had occurred on the convoy of the security forces and organization which resulted in extensive casualties.
Major Attacks in Kabul
Terrorist strikes targeting a military convoy of freshly graduated Cadets from the centre of Maidan Wardak; attack on the enlightenment Movement protests; attack on the American camp in Pol-e Charkhi in Kabul; at the American University of Afghanistan; targeting the staffs of the Ministry of Defense and police officers; and other several attacks on Shiite religious ceremony in Kabul, all in less than a year occurred in the National Capital region which killed hundreds of people.
With all these attacks happening in the heart of capital Kabul, there are many Afghan citizens who question the credibility and efficiency of leading security officials of the National Unity Government (NUG) and ask for more accountability of the government particularly in security arena. So, it is believed that if the Afghan government does not pay serious attention to security situation in the capital Kabul and across the country, the unstable situation will not only continue but will also result in more horrific attacks and killings that will widen the rifts of Afghan citizens and the NUG.