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Another blast in Kabul targets Shiite community

Third terror attack in four days intensifies fears for final days of religious mourning period

Municipality workers clean the area around a blast site in the heart of Kabul's Shiite minority community on Aug. 6. (Ali Khara/Reuters)

KABUL — A bombing in the heart of Kabul’s Shiite minority community Saturday killed at least two people and wounded 22. It was the third terrorist attack in the area since Wednesday, and intensified fears of further violence during the final days of Muharram, the Shiite mourning period.

The chief spokesman for the Kabul police, Khalid Zadran, said in a tweet late Saturday that the explosives were planted in a vase.

“The enemies are attempting to target the people and create a rift, but they will not succeed in their nefarious designs,” Zadran said. “We accept it as a religious and national duty to defeat such elements.”

There were unconfirmed reports that the blast had targeted a meeting between Taliban security officials and local Shiite elders, which had been called to address the escalating violence, and that two participants had been killed.

Despite Taliban officials’ efforts to calm public fears, the deadly blast Saturday evening dampened community hopes for effective action to keep them safe. It also intensified domestic and international pressure on Afghanistan’s new religious rulers, who are Sunni Muslims, to fulfill their pledge to protect all Afghan citizens after they took power last August.

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The bombing, which was not claimed by any group, followed two terrorist attacks in the past four days that were claimed by an offshoot of the Islamic State, an extremist Sunni militant group that has carried out dozens of bombings and shootings in the Shiite-dominated area of West Kabul in recent years. The group is known as Islamic State-Khorasan or ISIS-K.

On Wednesday, a group of Islamic State commandos invaded a high-rise apartment building in the Karte Sakhi neighborhood and began firing on a Taliban security team that was canvassing the area. After a seven-hour firefight, during which some families were reportedly held hostage and then freed unharmed, Taliban officials announced they had killed four terrorists and captured one.

On Friday, a bomb planted in a roadside cart exploded in a busy market near a mosque in another area of West Kabul, known as Sar-e-Karez. Officials said at least eight people were killed and another 18 injured. There were reports that women and children had been meeting at the mosque when the bomb exploded.

After the back-to-back incidents, residents demanded better protection for the community until the climactic final days of Muharram this week, which are known as Ashura. On Friday, police officials announced they were creating a special commission to ensure full security during Ashura. In a statement, Zadran asked “our Shiite countrymen” to restrict their activities to special tented mourning sites and “not to make disturbances for other people.”

During Ashura, religious emotions run high as people mourn the death of Imam Hussain, a revered Shiite figure who was killed in the 7th century. With loud dirges pounding from loudspeakers, hundreds of men and boys march or form circles where they flagellate their backs with knives and chains.

In a statement Saturday before the third attack, the U.N. Assistance Mission for Afghanistan condemned the Friday market bombing and said the Taliban government “must prevent such indiscriminate attacks” and launch a “thorough & transparent investigation.”

The location of the bombing was redolent with historic irony. The fiery blast detonated one block from Mazari Circle, a roundabout with archways and a stone plaque honoring Ali Abdul Mazari, an indomitable Shiite militia leader who led a fierce fight against Taliban forces for years before he was captured by their forces and imprisoned, where he died in 1996.

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In March 2020, at least 27 people were killed and 29 wounded in a bombing after an official ceremony in the Shiite community to mark the death anniversary of Mazari. There were initial reports that the Taliban — at that point a guerrilla force fighting a civilian government — had carried out the attack, but it was later claimed by ISIS-K.

After the Taliban returned to power last year, one of its first formal actions was to blow up a statue of Mazari in northern Bamian province, a historic northern region that is the Afghan Shiite and Hazara homeland. Now, Taliban officials are sworn to protect Mazari’s followers against another, outside foe of Afghanistan.

Photos of the Saturday blast showed people running beneath posters of Mazari with a fiery burst of flames behind them. They also showed people milling around a little further up the street, among damaged display booths covered with religious banners and other paraphernalia for Muharram.