“The enemies are trying to target people and create a rift, but they will not succeed in their nefarious schemes. We accept this as a religious and patriotic duty to defeat such elements,” Zadran said.
There were unconfirmed reports that the explosion targeted a meeting between Taliban security officials and local Shiite sheikhs, who had been called to address the escalating violence, and that two participants were killed.
Despite efforts by Taliban officials to assuage the public’s fears, the deadly explosion on Saturday evening dashed community hopes for effective measures to keep them safe. It has also intensified domestic and international pressure on Afghanistan’s new religious rulers, who are Sunni Muslims, to fulfill their pledge to protect all Afghan citizens after they took power last August.
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The bombing, which was not claimed by any group, came on the heels of two terrorist attacks in the past four days claimed by a branch of the Islamic State, a Sunni extremist group that carried out dozens of bombings and shootings in the Shiite-dominated region. West Kabul region in recent years. The group is known as the Islamic State of Khorasan or ISIS-K.
On Wednesday, a group of ISIS commandos stormed a high-rise apartment building in Karti Sakhi district and started shooting at a Taliban security team that was roaming the area. After a 7-hour shootout, during which some families were reportedly taken hostage and then released unharmed, Taliban officials announced that they had killed four terrorists and captured one.
On Friday, a bomb planted in a roadside cart exploded in a crowded market near a mosque in another district of western Kabul, known as Sar-e Kariz. Officials said at least eight people were killed and 18 wounded. There were reports of women and children meeting in the mosque when the bomb exploded.
After the successive events, residents demanded better protection for the community until the last days of Muharram this week, which is known as Ashura. On Friday, police officials announced the formation of a special committee to ensure complete security during Ashura. In a statement, Zadran called on the “Shia sons of our country” to restrict their activities in tent mourning sites and to “not cause harassment to others.”
During Ashura, religious sentiments rise as people mourn the death of Imam Hussein, a revered Shiite figure who was murdered in the seventh century. With the tinkling sound of the loudspeakers, hundreds of men and boys walk or form circles as they whip their backs with knives and chains.
In a statement on Saturday before the third attack, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan condemned Friday’s market bombing and said the Taliban government “must prevent such indiscriminate attacks” and begin a “comprehensive and transparent investigation”.
The bombing site was replete with historical irony. The fiery explosion blew up one block of Mazari Roundabout, a roundabout with arches and a stone plaque in honor of Ali Abdul Mazari, an indomitable Shiite militia leader who had led a fierce battle against Taliban forces for years before their forces captured and arrested him, where he died in 1996.
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In March 2020, at least 27 people were killed and 29 injured in a bombing after an official ceremony in the Shiite community to commemorate Mazari’s death. There were initial reports that the Taliban – at the time a guerrilla force fighting a civilian government – had carried out the attack, but it was later claimed by ISIS.
After the Taliban returned to power last year, one of their first official actions was to blow up the Mazari statue in the northern province of Bamiyan, a historic northern district that is home to Afghan Shiites and Hazaras. Now, Taliban officials have vowed to protect Mazari’s followers from another external enemy of Afghanistan.
Pictures of Saturday’s explosion showed people running under posters of Mazari, with a fiery flame erupting behind them. They also showed people wandering a little further down the street, among damaged display stands covered with religious banners and other paraphernalia of Muharram.