A suicide bombing followed by gunfire as Shia Muslims gathered for Friday prayers at a mosque in the Afghan capital has killed at least 20 people and wounded dozens of others with ISIL claiming responsibility.
After the blast at the Imam Zaman mosque, in the Qala-Najara neighbourhood in north Kabul, gunmen stormed in and began shooting.
“We were here, people were waiting for prayers to start, a suicide attacker came and killed the guards and fired on the other guard at the gate and killed him, then entered the mosque,” eyewitness Ghulam Reza told The Associated Press news agency.
Officials said more than 20 people were killed and at least 40 wounded with the casualty toll expected to rise as medical workers took the victims to the hospital.
Policemen made an attempt to enter the mosque but withdrew after one of the attackers set off an explosion, said police official Mohammad Sadiq Muradi.
Mir Hussain Nasiri, a member of Afghanistan’s Shia clerical council, said the mosque could accommodate up to 1,000 people.
A sprawling cavernous prayer hall dominates the main floor. The second floor is where the women pray. Nasiri said when police initially sought to get into the mosque, the attackers blocked the door leading to the second floor, which he said would mean they held the women hostage.
|Afghan security forces arrive at the site of a suicide attack [Reuters]|
Al Jazeera’s Jennifer Glasse, reporting from the scene, quoted eyewitnesses as saying the assailants had run out of ammunition and started stabbing worshippers with knives. Some of the victims included children and women.
“It was a busy time, in the middle of Friday prayer as the attack took place,” said Glasse, adding the brazen assault had now ened.
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s affiliate in Afghanistan claimed responsibility. ISIL-linked Aamaq website said on Friday two of its fighters carried out the assault. It did not give further details.
The attack was the latest by ISIL to hit the Afghan capital. Last month it hit the Iraqi embassy in Kabul and afterward issued a warning to all Shia in Afghanistan, saying its cadres would attack Shia places of worship.
Within days of the embassy attack, ISIL also took responsibility for a suicide assault on a Shia mosque in western Herat province that killed 32 people.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies