By Salim Yunusa
A suicide bomb attack on worshippers at a Shiite mosque in the Afghan city of Kunduz has killed at least 55 people in the bloodiest assault since US forces left the country in August.
Scores more victims from the minority community were wounded in Friday’s blast, which was claimed by the Islamic State group and appeared designed to further destabilise Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover.
The regional branch of the rabidly sectarian IS has repeatedly targeted Shiites in Afghanistan. It is a Sunni Islamist group like the Taliban, but the two are bitter rivals.
“It was a very terrifying incident,” said a teacher in Kunduz, who lives near the mosque.
“Many of our neighbours have been killed and wounded. A 16-year-old neighbour was killed. They couldn’t find half of his body.”
Images from the scene showed debris strewn inside the mosque, its windows blown out by the explosion. Some men were seen carrying a body draped in a bloody sheet to an ambulance.
A medical source at Kunduz Provincial Hospital said 35 dead and more than 55 wounded had been taken there, while Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said 20 dead and several dozen wounded were brought to its hospital.
Aminullah, an eyewitness whose brother was at the mosque, said: “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.”
Matiullah Rohani, the Taliban government’s director of culture and information in Kunduz, confirmed it was a suicide attack, and put the death toll at 46.
– ‘Horrific attack’ –
The Taliban have been seeking to consolidate power but still face attacks from the regional IS branch, called Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K).
The Taliban security chief in the northern city accused the mosque attackers of trying to foment trouble between Shiites and Sunnis.
“We assure our Shiite brothers that in the future, we will provide security for them and that such problems will not happen to them,” Mulawi Dost Muhammad said.
Residents of the city, the capital of Kunduz province, told AFP the mosque blast happened during Friday prayers, the most important of the week for Muslims.