A suicide bomber killed more than 50 Shia worshippers outside a mosque in the Afghan capital of Kabul today. Another suicide bomber killed four more Shia in the western city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
The Kabul suicide bomber waded into a crowd of Afghans outside the Abul Fazl shrine near the Presidential Palace and detonated his vest. The attack took place around noon Afghan time, while a large crowd of Shia gathered to observe the religious rites of Ashura.
Afghan officials said that 54 people were killed and more than 160 were wounded in the Kabul attack. The death toll may rise as several of Shia worshippers were badly wounded.
In Mazar-i-Sharif, a bicycle laden with explosives was detonated near the city’s main mosque, killing four Afghans and wounding at least 17 more.
A Pakistani terror group known as the Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi al Almi, an offshoot of the anti-Shai Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi, has claimed responsibility for the suicide attack in Kabul. The claim was not confirmed, and the Taliban have denied executing the attack. Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi al Almi has claimed credit for suicide attacks in Pakistan, and also kidnapped and executed Colonel Imam, the Pakistani military intelligence officer who was called the godfather of the Taliban. The group is allied with al Qaeda and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
The Taliban, the Haqqani Network, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, al Qaeda, and a host of smaller, affiliated terror groups have also carried out suicide attacks in Afghanistan.
Today’s attack in the Kabul is the first suicide bombing in the capital since Oct. 29, when a bomber hit an up-armored bus carrying NATO personnel to an Afghan military training facility. Seventeen US and NATO soldiers and civilians were killed in the attack.
The Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and other allied terror groups have conducted the attacks in the area by pooling resources into what is known as the Kabul Attack Network. The network is made up of fighters from the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, and cooperates with terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and al Qaeda. Top Afghan intelligence officials have linked the Kabul Attack Network to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate as well. The network’s tentacles extend outward from Kabul into the surrounding provinces of Logar, Wardak, Nangarhar, Kapisa, Ghazni, and Zabul, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal.
The Kabul Attack Network has averaged about one major, high-profile attack in the capital this year. But today’s targeting of Shia does not fit the profile of other attacks, which have focused on US, NATO, and Afghan personnel and bases, as well as areas such as hotels where Westerners and Afghan officials congregate.
The Taliban have carried out numerous attacks at mosques in the past, including the assassination of Kunduz’s governor in the province of Takhar on Oct. 8, 2010, and more recently, a suicide bombing that killed seven people, including a local police commander, in an attack at a mosque in the northern Afghan province of Baghlan on Nov. 6.
The attacks that targeted civilians in Kabul and Marzar-i-Sharif have occurred after Taliban emir Mullah Omar recently released several statements voicing concern over the perception that the Taliban were killing civilians in “martyrdom attacks and other operations.” Omar, in an Eid statement published on the Taliban’s Voice of Jihad propaganda website, called on provincial shadow governors to create mechanisms to investigate claims of civilian casualties and punish those guilty.
Omar’s statement also advised that civilians should stay away from American forces to avoid being killed in attacks.
“The common folk must also facilitate Mujahideen in averting civilian losses and sufferings,” the statement said. “They should avoid moving in close proximity to Americans that patrol in villages and countryside and should actively put to practice the precautionary measures announced by Mujahideen so no harm will reach them during the impending attacks of the invaders.”
Although the Taliban have publicly claimed they seek to limit civilian casualties, a secret directive issued by Mullah Omar last year shows that the Taliban have no qualms about attacking civilians, including women, who cooperate with the Afghan government or Coalition forces.
Afghan Shia shrine blast kills 52, Reuters
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.