At least 32 dead in Afghan mosque blasts: State news agency

The cause of the blasts was not immediately identified, but they came exactly a week after a suicide bomb attack on Shi'ite worshippers in the northern city of Kunduz. PHOTO: AFP

KABUL (AFP, REUTERS) - A large explosion tore through a Shi'ite mosque in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar during Friday prayers (Oct 15), killing at least 32 people and wounding 68, Afghan state news agency Bakhtar said, the second massive attack in a week targeting worshippers from the minority sect.

A local reporter in Kandahar told Reuters that eyewitnesses had described three suicide attackers, one of whom blew himself up at the entrance to the mosque with the two others detonating their devices inside the building. An earlier quoted figure of 62 dead, was corrected to 32.

"The situation is very bad. Mirwais hospital is messaging and calling on young people to give blood," he said, referring to a local hospital where dead and injured had been taken.

Photographs and mobile phone footage posted by journalists on social media showed many people apparently dead or seriously wounded on the bloody floor of the Imam Bargah mosque.

The cause of the blasts was not immediately identified, but they came exactly a week after a suicide bomb attack on Shi'ite worshippers in the northern city of Kunduz.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Interior ministry spokesman Qari Saeed Khosti of the ruling Taliban movement said authorities were collecting details.

Last week, in an claimed by Islamic State militants, scores of Shi'ite worshippers were killed at a mosque in the northern city of Kunduz. The full death toll from that attack has been estimated as high as 80.

Sunni Muslim fighters of Islamic State, also called ISIS, have repeatedly targeted Shi'ites in the past. The Taliban are also strict Sunni Muslims but have pledged to protect all ethnic and sectarian groups since sweeping into power in August as US forces withdrew.

Provincial council former member Nematullah Wafa said the blasts occurred at the city's Imam Bargah mosque.

An eyewitness told AFP he heard three explosions, one at the main door of the mosque, another at a southern area and a third where worshippers wash themselves.

Members of the Taliban's special forces arrived at the mosque to secure the site and an appeal went out to residents to donate blood for the victims.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The blasts, coming so soon after the Kunduz attack, underlined the increasingly uncertain security in Afghanistan as the ISIS has stepped up operations following the Taliban's victory over the Western-backed government in Kabul in August.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday said hundreds of fighters loyal to the Islamic State militant group were massing in northern Afghanistan with plans to move between ex-Soviet Central Asian countries disguised as refugees.

"According to our intelligence, the number of (ISIS) members alone in northern Afghanistan is about 2,000 people," the Russian leader said during a video conference meeting with leaders of other ex-Soviet states.

Putin earlier this week warned of the threat of veteran fighters from Iraq and Syria with IS links crossing into Afghanistan, while Russia's foreign ministry said it expected the Taliban, which recently gained control of the country, to deal with the threat.

On Friday, he said ISIS leaders in Afghanistan are seeking to project the group's influence across former Soviet states in Central Asia - which Moscow sees as its backyard - to stir up religious and ethnic discord.

"Terrorists are seeking to infiltrate the Commonwealth's territory, including under the guise of refugees," Putin said, referring to a group of ex-Soviet countries - some of which border Afghanistan.

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