Two attackers stormed a Muslim Shi’ite mosque in Western Afghanistan’s Herat Province earlier this week, killing at least 29 and seriously injuring 60 in an attack that has been claimed by the ‘Islamic State’ group. The attackers were a suicide bomber and terrorist armed with an automatic rifle; both are dead. As Time reports, Herat’s Shi’ite community have reacted angrily to the refusal of nearby Afghan National Police (ANP) units to enter the mosque and eliminate the militants, and have been attacking the nearby ANP station with stones and firebombs.
This incident has joined a series of violent attacks on Shi’ites in Herat Province, who are a minority in Afghanistan and frequently the victims of targeted killings by both the Taliban and Islamic State. However, the brutality of this attack – taking place during evening prayers while the mosque was packed with at least 300 worshipers – has shocked the Herat community. Even a spokesman for the Taliban reached out to reporters to condemn the attack shortly after it occurred on Tuesday, the BBC reports.
The attack has occurred a mere three months after Afghanistan’s ‘Kabul Peace Process for Peace and Security Cooperation’ concluded with promising signs that cooperation between Afghanistan and other countries in the region on Afghani security issues would be achieved, and represents a significant setback for the slow-moving Afghani peace process. Kabul too has been shaken by recurrent Islamic State-organised attacks, with a suicide bombing in the Afghan capital killing 150 in May this year.
Speaking in an article by Deutsche Welle on a similar attack last year, Siegfried O. Wolfe, a South Asia scholar at the University of Heidelberg says that targeted attacks like these demonstrate the Islamic State’s determination to undermine civil society in Afghanistan, and “weaken the current Afghan government by portraying them as unable to protect the country’s minorities.”
Yet, despite what appears to be a deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan, there appears to be some hope. That the Taliban now condemns targeted attacks of the kind that have been occurring in Herat, indicates that popular tolerance of sectarian violence is waning in Afghanistan. Indeed, there have been non-sectarian protests in Herat following Tuesday’s attack, calling for the ‘death of the Islamic State’ and for an end to religious fundamentalist-inspired violence in Afghanistan.
While promising, the success or failure of the current Afghani government will depend on the extent to which it is willing to mend sectarian divisions in Afghanistan.
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