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Afghanistan’s Shias seek protection after latest mosque attack

After an attack on a Shia mosque in Kabul killed 40 people, members of the minority Afghanistan say the government has not done enough to protect them from such assaults.

world Updated: Aug 26, 2017 18:01 IST
Shias in Afghanistan,terrorism,Islamic State
A security guard keeps watch as Afghan mourners and relatives pray in front of the coffin of one of the 28 victims of a suicide attack, on a Shiite mosque a day earlier, in Kabul on August 26, 2017.(AFP)

Victims of the latest attack on Shia Muslims in Afghanistan directed their anger squarely at the government, accusing it of failing to protect them despite repeated attacks.

Suicide bombers and gunmen, some dressed in police uniforms, attacked a mosque in Kabul during prayers on Friday, killing more than 40 people and wounding more than 100, according to mosque leaders.

Many of the victims were women trapped on the mosque’s second floor.

The United Nations put the preliminary toll at 20 civilians killed and more than 30 wounded, while the interior ministry said 28 people died and 50 were wounded.

At least 30 victims were buried on Saturday on the grounds of the same mosque as hundreds of family members, friends and other mourners gathered under bullet-marked buildings.

People perform prayers for one of the victims of Friday's attack at a Shia mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 26, 2017. (Reuters)

Inside the mosque itself, blood was spattered everywhere and the walls were burned and scarred.

“The government does not care about us,” said Akhtar Hussain as he attended the funeral of a relative. “What should we expect from a government that has never tried to protect us?”

Islamic State-affiliated militants claimed responsibility for the attack, the latest in a number of deadly assaults on Afghanistan’s Shia population.

Sectarian violence has been relatively rare in Afghanistan but since 2015, Islamic State militants have helped escalate fears by killing scores of Shias at mosques, public gatherings and elsewhere.

Friday’s attack was the sixth attack on Shia mosques so far this year, with Islamic State claiming responsibility for half of them, according to the UN.

“This latest in a series of attacks targeting members of the Shia community at worship has no possible justification,” Toby Lanzer, acting head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, said in a statement.

“Such attacks directed against congregations and places of worship are serious violations of international law that may amount to war crimes.”

Afghans walk inside a Shia mosque after Friday's attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 26, 2017. (Reuters)

The attacks often take political overtones as members of the Shia minority complain that the government ignores their needs.

“This attack could have been avoided,” said Abdul Razaq Sakha, a leader at the mosque. “Our government is guilty in this regard.”

After past pleas for more protection, the government assigned one policeman to help guard the mosque, he said.

That policeman died alongside a private guard when the attackers stormed the gates.

Mourners who gathered on Saturday said the government should help provide security, otherwise they would take the matter into their own hands.

“A police check point is very close to our mosque but they did not act until terrorists killed and wounded dozens of people,” said Mohammad Jahfar Rezaee, whose aunt died in the attack.

“The government is deaf so we have to defend ourselves at any cost.”

First Published: Aug 26, 2017 17:55 IST