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IS kill twenty, injure 50 more in suicide attack on Shi'ite mosque in Kabul

A series of attacks have underscored spiralling insecurity in Afghanistan as a resurgent Taliban steps up offensives across the country, while the Sunni Islamic State group, known for carrying out sectarian attacks, expands its Afghan footprint
WAKIL KOHSAR (AFP/File)
Islamic State has been behind a wave of attacks against Afghanistan's Shi'ites

Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing and gun attack on a Shiite mosque, killing at least twenty people in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Friday, the latest in a string of mass-casualty assaults on Shi'ite targets, highlighting Afghanistan's deteriorating security situation.

From around 1pm local time, gunshots and explosions could be heard and witnesses reported seeing worshippers smash windows to escape the building, which was believed to have been packed with dozens of men, women and children when the assailants struck during Friday prayers.

The siege was declared to be over after around five hours of chaos, an official said.

Just before the official's statement, IS released a statement claiming responsibility for the attack via their propaganda agency, Amaq, saying that two of its suicide bombers had blown themselves up inside the mosque, although officials have so far only reported one bomber.

"We have 20 killed and more than 50 wounded," Mohammad Ismail Kawoosi, a health ministry official, told AFP, without specifying how many were civilians.

Heavily armed security forces stormed the building and rescued more than 100 worshippers, according to the interior ministry, which had initially put the death toll at 12, including 10 civilians and two security force personnel.

Pools of blood

People gathered outside the mosque were trying to call women and children trapped inside but their mobile phones were not responding, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

"Our relatives have been stranded inside the mosque... We believe they have been held hostage by the gunmen. We are very concerned about their safety and may God help us and rescue our loved ones," one of the onlookers said.

The attackers were holed up in the women's section, Sayed Jan Agha, who works in the mosque and whose mother is one of those trapped inside, told AFP.

Hoshang Hashimi (AFP)

"The bombers are running short of bullet rounds and they are using knives to stab worshippers," another eyewitness said.

Witnesses said the attackers were also armed with rocket propelled grenade launchers.

More than 10 ambulances were at the scene to take the wounded to local hospitals. Some relatives flocked to a nearby private hospital to search for loved ones who had been in the mosque at the time of the attack.

Pools of blood could be seen at the entrance to the medical facility.

String of bombings

The assault underscores spiraling insecurity in Afghanistan as a resurgent Taliban steps up offensives across the country, while the Sunni Islamic State group, known for carrying out sectarian attacks, expands its Afghan footprint.

It comes just days after US President Donald Trump cleared the way for thousands more American troops to be deployed in the war-torn country.

Najib Danish, a deputy spokesman for the interior ministry, told TOLOnews that initial information suggested a suicide bomber detonated himself and two or three other militants had entered the mosque and were exchanging fire with police.

"Two Afghan police forces were martyred and two others were wounded and have been taken to hospital. All the four police officers were responsible for the security of the site," Danish wrote on Facebook.

Shiites, a minority of around three million in overwhelmingly Sunni Afghanistan, have regularly been targeted by IS jihadists recently. They accuse police and troops of failing to protect them.

IS has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks killing dozens of Shiites in Kabul over the past year, including twin explosions in July 2016 that ripped through crowds of Shiite Hazaras, killing at least 85 people and wounding more than 400.

Earlier this month 33 worshippers were killed and 66 wounded in a suicide attack claimed by IS on a Shiite mosque in the western Afghan city of Herat.

(Staff agencies)

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