Twin Mosque Attacks Kill Scores in One of Afghanistan’s Deadliest Weeks

KABUL, Afghanistan — Just like any other day, Zareen Gul, 60, held the hand of her grandson, Ali Seyar Nazari, 10, and left home to attend the early evening prayer in their neighborhood mosque in the west of Kabul.

This time, however, they did not return home. Their family found their remains, barely identifiable from the clothes they wore, at a hospital after an Islamic State suicide bomber targeted the prayer.

Ms. Gul and young Seyar became the latest victims of what has been one of Afghanistan’s deadliest weeks. The death toll from twin attacks on mosques late on Friday, just hours apart, was raised on Saturday to at least 67 people killed and dozens wounded. As many as 88 may have died in the two attacks.

More than 200 people, both civilians and security personnel, have been killed this week in Afghanistan in six attacks. A precise casualty total is hard to get, as varying levels of violence rage in more than half the country’s provinces.

“This week alone, hundreds of Afghan civilians going about their daily lives, including practicing their religious faith, have fallen victims to brutal acts of violence,” António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, said in a statement. “The cycle of violence must end and dialogue commence.”

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Late Saturday afternoon, another suicide bombing was carried out in Kabul, targeting a minibus carrying students from the city’s military academy. “Fourteen officers were killed. We don’t have information on the number of wounded,” said Gen. Mohammad Radmanish, a spokesman for the Afghan defense ministry.

The country’s security forces have suffered heavy casualties this week, with at least 89 killed in three Taliban attacks nationwide.

Ms. Gul and Seyar were among the 58 killed when a suicide bomber detonated explosives in the Imam Zaman Shiite mosque in the west of Kabul.

The other mosque attack happened in Dolaina district, in the western province of Ghor, and the exact casualty toll was contested. Two senior security officials put the death toll at 21, while the district’s governor told local Afghan media that 30 people had been killed. However, Bismillah Khan, the head of criminal investigations at the district’s police force, insisted only 9 people had died.

While no group claimed responsibility for the Ghor attack, the Islamic State, in a statement, said that one of its fighters in what it called Khorasan Province, an ancient name for the region that includes Afghanistan, had detonated an explosive vest inside the mosque in Western Kabul.

“There were about 300 worshipers inside the mosque, with women on one side,” said Mohammed Ibrahim, a neighborhood leader who was surveying the destruction on Saturday. The pulpit, the walls, as well as much of the carpet in the front of the hall was covered in blood.

“The figure I got from the security forces today is that 58 people are killed and 64 wounded in last night’s suicide attack,” Mr. Ibrahim said. “Among those killed were 6 children underage 12 and four women.”

Sayed Nazer, a witness, said he was in front of the mosque arriving for prayer when the explosion knocked him to the ground.

“When I stood up, some people were rushing inside the mosque and some running outside. I saw three police pickup trucks full of bodies taken away, before even ambulances arrived.”

The number of attacks this year against the places of worship of the Shiite minority have alarmed many Afghans. The United Nations, before Friday’s attack, said at least 84 Shiites have been killed and nearly 200 injured in attacks on mosques this year.

While the Islamic State has claimed most of the attacks targeting Shiites in Afghanistan, both Western and Afghan officials still have doubts about the group’s role in Afghanistan. They question whether there is coordination with Iraq and Syria, or if the group claiming affiliation with the Islamic State overlaps with some of the more extreme elements of the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban.

In August, Islamic State suicide bombers stormed a mosque in north Kabul during Friday prayers, leaving at least 40 worshipers dead. Weeks earlier, an attack on another mosque in the western city of Herat killed scores.

After the explosion at Imam Zaman mosque, emotions ran high outside. Many people had escaped the mosque in Kabul barefoot, and some protested what they saw as the government’s perceived inability to protect the country’s Shiites, chanting, “Death to Ashraf Ghani,” Afghanistan’s president.

On Saturday, relatives prepared for burial the bodies of Ms. Gul and Seyar at another mosque nearby. The two were to be buried in their family cemetery in the west of the city this afternoon.

“Seyar was a smart kid, and he would often ask: ‘Why is there a war going on, what are they fighting for?’ ” Khalilullah Amini, a member of the family, said.

“He went to pray, and this is what happened,” his distraught uncle, Asadullah Nazari, said. “He wanted to become an engineer in the future. His books, his pens, his bag is left at home.”


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