Islamic State claims suicide bombings at Kabul protest

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The Islamic State claimed credit for a double suicide attack today in Kabul that killed more than 60 people, wounded at least 200 more and caused much of the city to be shut down.

The Islamic State’s suicide bombers detonated their explosives as Afghan Hazara, an ethnic Shia minority, gathered to protest in the capital. The Hazara were demonstrating to influence the government to allow an electric power line project to pass through Bamayan province.

The Islamic State claimed credit for the deadly Kabul bombings on its semi-official Amaq News Agency. According to Amaq, two “fighters of the Islamic State” executed the attack on the protesters.

The Taliban, via one of its official spokesmen, Zabihullah Mujahid, quickly denied any involvement for the Kabul bombings.

“The Mujaheedin [Taliban] does not have anything to do with today’s attack in Kabul,” Mujahid said on his Twitter account immediately after the bombings. He claimed the “enemies of Afghanistan” were responsible, likely a reference to the Islamic State. The Taliban and the Islamic State have been at odds since the latter group established its “Khorasan province” in 2014. The group is comprised of disaffected commanders from the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.

While the Islamic State has experienced difficulty establishing a significant presence in Afghanistan – and has lost ground in areas such as Helmand, Zabul, and Farah – it still has a foothold in the eastern province of Nangarhar, where it fights both the Taliban and Afghan forces. The Islamic State likely is using this position of strength in Nangarhar to launch attacks into the capital. Additionally, the group may be leveraging legacy networks from the greatly weakened Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a portion of which defected to the Islamic State.

The Islamic State has not shied away from directly targeting Hazaras. In February 2015, it kidnapped 30 Hazara men in Zabul. Later that year, seven Hazara, including children, were beheaded by the Islamic State.

The rise of the Islamic State as well as the resurgence of the Taliban has led to the rise of militias in the Afghan north. Hazara make up a component of the “Marg,” or Death Militia in northern Afghanistan. [See LWJ report, Afghan ‘Death’ militia emerges, vows to fight Islamic State, Taliban.]

While the Islamic State has used its suicide bombers in the capital to hit soft targets such as political demonstrations, the Taliban has targeted Afghan security personnel and foreign workers. The Taliban’s last major attack in Kabul, on June 30, targeted a convoy of police cadets and killed more than two dozen police and first responders. On June 20, a Taliban suicide bomber attacked a bus carrying individuals who worked at the Canadian embassy, and killed 23 people, including 14 Nepali security guards. A suicide assault team also struck a security headquarters in the heart of the city on April 19, killing at least 60 people and wounding more than 300.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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