KABUL, Afghanistan — A blast at a mosque during Friday Prayer killed dozens of people in northern Afghanistan, according to officials, the latest reminder of the precarious security situation across the country after the Taliban’s recent takeover.
Witness accounts described a powerful explosion with many casualties. Matullah Rohani, a Taliban official in Kunduz, told local media that at least 43 people were killed by the attack and more than 140 were injured.
A local Shiite community leader put the death toll much higher. Sayed Ahmad Shah Hashemi, who represents Kunduz Province’s Shiite population, told The New York Times that more than 70 people were killed in the attack.
“This deadly incident has caused trauma among Shiite and other sectors of the society,” Mr. Hashemi said.
The Islamic State Khorasan was suspected in the attack, the deadliest since an ISIS-K suicide bombing at the international airport in Kabul on Aug. 26 killed about 170 civilians and 13 U.S. troops.
ISIS-K is a Sunni extremist group that has long targeted Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan, focusing heavily on the Hazara ethnic minority, which is predominantly Shiite.
The group also staged an attack several days ago outside a mosque in Kabul, the capital, which killed several people.
The newly installed Taliban government, having overthrown the country’s Western-backed administration in August, is wrestling with a collapsing economy as foreign funding remains largely frozen and with invigorated Islamic State fighters who have conducted guerrilla-style attacks and bombings across parts of the country.
In the months before American forces withdrew, some 8,000 to 10,000 jihadist fighters from Central Asia, the North Caucasus region of Russia, Pakistan and the Xinjiang region in western China poured into Afghanistan, a United Nations report concluded in June. Most are associated with the Taliban or Al Qaeda, which are closely linked, but others are allied with the Islamic State.
As Taliban officials shift from leading an insurgency to forming a functioning state, providing security to a population ravaged by more than 40 years of war has been their benchmark. But Islamic State attacks have undercut the Taliban’s promises, leading to swift and violent retribution against the terrorist group.
For Afghanistan’s Shiite minority, the new Taliban era has seen a continuation of the predation and violence that has stalked them for decades.
The Hazara grew increasingly bitter toward the U.S.-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani in recent years, accusing it of doing little to protect them against sectarian massacre. And they looked at the Taliban’s return to power with dread: During the 1990s civil war era and first Taliban government in Afghanistan, the group made a point of targeting Hazara Shiites.