July 2016 – AFGHANISTAN – Twin explosions tore through a demonstration by members of Afghanistan’s mainly Shi’ite Hazara minority in Kabul on Saturday, killing at least 80 people and wounding more than 230 in a suicide attack claimed by Islamic State. Graphic television footage from the site of the attack showed many dead bodies lying on the bloodied road, close to where thousands of Hazara had been demonstrating over the route of a planned multimillion dollar power line. “Two fighters from Islamic State detonated explosive belts at a gathering of Shi’ites in the city of Kabul in Afghanistan,” said a brief statement on the group’s Amaq news agency.
If confirmed as the work of Islamic State, the attack would represent a major escalation for a group which has hitherto been largely confined to the eastern province of Nangarhar. The explicit reference to the Hazara’s Shi’ite religious affiliation also represents a menacing departure for Afghanistan, where the bloody sectarian rivalry between Sunni and Shi’ites typical of Iraq has been relatively rare, despite decades of war. The Persian-speaking Hazara, estimated to make up about 9 percent of the population, are Afghanistan’s third-largest minority but they have long suffered discrimination and thousands were killed during the period of Taliban rule. “We were holding a peaceful demonstration when I heard a bang and then everyone was escaping and yelling,” said Sabira Jan, a protestor who witnessed the attack and saw bloodied bodies strewn across the ground. “There was noone to help.”
The Taliban, a fierce enemy of Islamic State, denied any involvement and said in a statement posted on its website that the attack was “a plot to ignite civil war.” The attack succeeded despite tight security which saw much of the city centre sealed off with stacks of shipping containers and other obstacles and helicopters patrolling overhead. A statement from the interior ministry said 80 people had been killed and 231 wounded, making it among the deadliest single incidents since the Taliban were driven from power in the U.S.-led campaign in 2001. The worst previous attack against the Hazara was in December 2011, when more than 55 people were killed in Kabul during the Shi’ite festival of Ashura. That attack was claimed by a Pakistani Sunni extremist group called Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
President Ashraf Ghani declared a national day of mourning and vowed revenge, while the top United Nations official in Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, condemned the attack as a war crime. The United States offered any assistance needed to investigate the attack. –Reuters