Almeno 100 worshippers have been killed or injured in a suicide bombing that targeted a packed Shia mosque in Afghanistan during Friday prayers.
The blast took place in Kunduz, the capital city of Kunduz province in the north-east of the country. There was speculation that the attack was carried out by Islamic State (IS), which has a long history of attacking Afghanistan’s Shia minority.
Graphic but unverified images posted on social media showed horrific scenes inside the Gozar-e-Sayed Abad mosque, with bloodied bodies and body parts flung across the inside of the building by the explosion.
Photos and video from the scene showed rescuers carrying a body wrapped in a blanket from the mosque to an ambulance.
“Initial information indicates more than 100 people killed and injured in a suicide blast inside the mosque,” the United Nations’ mission to Afghanistan said in a tweet. Some reports suggested the death toll was as high as 50. If confirmed, a death toll of dozens would be the highest since US and Nato forces left Afghanistan at the end of August
The Taliban’s chief spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said a “large number” of worshippers were killed or wounded, and Taliban special forces had arrived at the scene and were investigating.
A local resident, Hussaindad Rezayee, said he rushed to the mosque as soon as the explosion went off. “I was busy at home doing construction work and when the prayers started the explosion happened," Egli ha detto. “I came to look for my relatives, the mosque was full.”
Zalmai Alokzai, a businessman who rushed to a hospital to check whether doctors needed blood donations, described chaotic scenes. “Ambulances were going back to the incident scene to carry the dead," Egli ha detto.
Afghanistan’s new Taliban leadership has been struggling with a growing threat from the local IS affiliate, Islamic State in Khorasan (IS-K), which has ramped up attacks against rivals, including two recent deadly bombings in Kabul.
On Sunday IS-K targeted a funeral prayer service attended by a number of senior Taliban leaders in Kabul, and there have been other smaller attacks in the eastern provinces of Nangarhar and Kunar.
The same group was blamed for an attack that killed 13 US servicemen and 169 Afghans during the evacuation of Kabul’s airport amid the Taliban’s takeover.
Dost Mohammad Obaida, the Taliban’s deputy police chief for Kunduz province, said Friday’s attack may have been carried out by a suicide bomber who had mingled with the worshippers inside the mosque.
“I assure our Shia brothers that the Taliban are prepared to ensure their safety,” Obaida said.
Ethnic Hazaras, who are mostly Shias, make up about 6% of Kunduz province’s population of nearly 1 million people. The province also has a large ethnic Uzbek population that has been targeted for recruitment by IS, which is closely aligned with the militant Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.