Afghan ISIS group claims series of attacks targeting Shiites

ISLAMABAD (AP) — An Islamic State affiliate claimed responsibility for a series of bombings Friday targeting Afghanistan’s Shia Muslim minority, while Pakistan issued a warning of Islamic State threats in its eastern province of Punjab.

The deadliest of Thursday’s three bombings in Afghanistan exploded inside a Shiite mosque in northern Mazar-e-Sharif. Hospital officials say at least 12 people were killed and up to 40 were injured.

Earlier Thursday, a roadside bomb exploded near a boys’ school in the Afghan capital Kabul, injuring two children in the predominantly Shia neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi. A third bomb in northern Kunduz injured 11 mechanics working for the country’s Taliban rulers.

Since coming to power last August, the Taliban have been battling the upstart Islamic State affiliate known as Islamic State in Khorasan Province or IS-K, which is proving to be a challenge for insoluble security for the Afghan religious government. Last November, the Taliban’s intelligence unit carried out sweeping attacks on suspected IS-K hideouts in eastern Nangarhar province.

In a statement on Friday, IS-K said the explosive device that devastated the Sai Doken mosque in Mazar-e-Sharif was hidden in a bag left inside among dozens of worshippers. As they knelt in prayer, he exploded.

“When the mosque was filled with prayers, the explosives detonated from a distance,” the IS statement said, saying 100 people were injured.

The Taliban say they arrested a former IS-K leader in the northern Balkh province, of which Mazar-e-Sharif is the capital. Zabihullah Noorani, head of Balkh province’s information and culture department, said Abdul Hamid Sangaryar was arrested in connection with Thursday’s mosque attack.

IS-K had been relatively inactive in Afghanistan since last November, but in recent days it has intensified its attacks in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, targeting Shia Muslim communities vilified by Sunni radicals.

Earlier this month, two bombs exploded in the Shia neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi in Kabul, killing at least seven students and injuring several others.

IS-K established its headquarters in eastern Afghanistan in 2014 and has been blamed for some of the worst attacks in Afghanistan, including a brutal attack on a maternity hospital and school that killed more than 80 girls in 2021, months before the Taliban. took power.

IS-K also took responsibility for a brutal bombing outside Kabul International Airport in August 2021 that killed more than 160 Afghans who had pushed to enter the airport to flee the country. Thirteen American servicemen were also killed while overseeing America’s final withdrawal and the end of its 20-year war in Afghanistan.

In recent months, IS-K has also stepped up attacks in neighboring Pakistan, targeting a Shia mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar in March. More than 65 worshipers were killed. The upstart affiliate also claimed several deadly attacks on the Pakistani military.

In the city of Faisalabad in central Punjab, Pakistan, local police issued a threat warning on Thursday, saying “it has been learned that ISIS-Khas are planning to carry out terrorist activities in Faisalabad”, advising people to “be extremely vigilant”. The police warning did not give details.

Meanwhile, on Thursday evening, a Pakistani soldier was killed in the southwestern province of Balochistan after militants attacked a security outpost. No one has claimed responsibility. The area has been targeted by both IS-K as well as the violent Pakistani Taliban militants known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also based in neighboring Afghanistan.

The militant groups’ safe havens in Afghanistan have raised concerns for Pakistan, which earlier this month carried out airstrikes inside Pakistan, killing at least 20 children, according to the United Nations Education Fund ( UNICEF).

Pakistan did not confirm the strikes but warned the Afghan Taliban to stop using its territory to attack across the border from Pakistan.

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Associated Press writer Tameem Akhgar in Islamabad, Asim Tanvir in Multan, Pakistan and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report

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