Mosque bombing kills 33 Afghans amid weeks of renewed violence

A Taliban official says a bombing at a mosque and religious school in northern Afghanistan on Friday killed at least 33 people, including students of a religious school. 

Bombing followed series of attacks by an Islamic State affiliate the day before

A wounded man receives treatment in a hospital, after a bombing at a mosque in the town of Imam Saheb, Afghanistan, on Friday. A Taliban official says the bombing killed at least 33 people. (Abdullah Sahil/The Associated Press)

A Taliban official says a bombing at a mosque and religious school in northern Afghanistan on Friday killed at least 33 people, including students of the school.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban's deputy culture and information minister, said the bombing in the town of Imam Saheb, in Kunduz province, also wounded another 43 people, many of them students.

No one immediately claimed responsibility, but Afghanistan's Islamic State affiliate on Friday claimed a series of bombings that happened a day earlier, the worst of which was an attack on a Shia mosque in northern Mazar-e-Sharif that killed at least 12 Shia Muslim worshippers and wounded scores more. 

Since sweeping 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 an intractable security challenge for Afghanistan's religiously driven government.

A wounded man lies in a hospital bed in Kunduz province on Friday. The bombing was the latest in a series of deadly attacks across Afghanistan. (Abdullah Sahil/The Associated Press)

Earlier, a Kunduz provincial police spokesperson put the death toll at the Malawi Bashir Ahmad Mosque and madrassa compound in Imam Saheb at two dead and six injured. Mujahid later tweeted the higher casualty numbers, saying: "We condemn this crime … and express our deepest condolences to the victims."

Friday's bombing is the latest in a series of deadly attacks across Afghanistan. Mujahid called the perpetrators of the Kunduz attack "seditionists and evil elements."

A United Nations official called the attack "horrific." Deputy special representative for Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov said in a tweet that "killings must stop now and perpetrators brought to justice." 

IS-K stepping up attacks

Last October, the IS-K claimed a brutal bombing at a Shia mosque also in northern Kunduz province that killed at least 50 people and wounded more than 100. In November, the Taliban's intelligence unit carried out sweeping attacks on suspected IS-K hideouts in eastern Nangarhar province, where the deadly affiliate is headquartered.

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

"When the mosque was filled with prayers, the explosives were detonated remotely," the statement said, claiming that 100 people were injured. 

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

The IS-K had been relatively inactive in Afghanistan since last November, but in recent weeks has stepped up its attacks in Afghanistan and in neighbouring Pakistan, taking aim at Shia Muslim communities reviled by Sunni radicals.

Earlier this month, two bombs exploded in Kabul's Shia neighbourhood of Dasht-e-Barchi, killing at least seven students and wounding several others.

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

The IS-K also took responsibility for a brutal bombing outside the Kabul International Airport in August 2021 that killed more than 160 Afghans who had been pushing to enter the airport to flee the country. Thirteen U.S. military personnel were also killed as they oversaw America's final withdrawal and the end of its 20-year war in Afghanistan.

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In Pakistan, an IS-K attack on a Shia mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar in March killed more than 65 worshippers. The upstart affiliate has also claimed several deadly attacks against Pakistan's military.

In Pakistan's central Punjab city of Faisalabad, the local police on Thursday issued a threat warning, saying "it has been learned that IS-K has planned to carry out terrorist activities in Faisalabad," advising people to "exercise extreme vigilance." The police warning did not elaborate.

In separate incidents, five children were also killed Friday in northern Afghanistan's Faryab Province while playing with unexploded ordnance. In one incident, three brothers died when they found an unexploded device and tried to dismantle it. In a second incident in another village, two children, ages seven and eight, were killed playing with a device, said Shamsullah Mohammadi, Faryab provincial information and culture head.

After more than four decades of war that included two invasions — one by the former Soviet Union and one by the U.S.-led coalition — Afghanistan is one of the heaviest mined countries in the world and is littered with unexploded ordnance.