Burqa-clad suicide bombers target Shia mosque in Gardez
KHOST -- Burqa-clad suicide bombers struck a Shia mosque in Paktia Province Friday (August 3) as it was crowded with worshippers for weekly prayers, killing at least 29 and wounding dozens.
Officials said they fear the death toll could rise after the assault.
"Two suicide explosions happened during Friday prayers in the Khwaja Hasan area of Gardez," said Abdullah Hasrat, a spokesman for the Paktia governor.
He put the death toll at 29, with 81 wounded, adding that the victims included children.
Provincial police chief Gen. Raz Mohammad Mandozai confirmed the presence of two suicide bombers, adding that the assailants were wearing burqas to hide their weapons and explosives.
Once inside the mosque, the two attackers opened fire on the crowd before detonating their bombs.
Local resident Sayed Naimatullah said he could hear the blasts from inside his home and rushed to the mosque.
"There were body parts, heads, limbs and arms scattered everywhere. The blood of the worshippers had painted the walls of the mosque... There were pieces of glass scattered all over," the 30-year-old told AFP.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Taliban later denied any involvement in the incident, according to a WhatsApp message from the group's spokesman sent to reporters.
Uptick in violence
Urban areas across Afghanistan have been rocked by a number of terrorist acts in recent months, with both "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) and Taliban insurgents targeting security forces and government installations.
The Taliban has not claimed a major attack in a city for weeks as it comes under increased pressure to agree to peace talks with the Afghan government.
But ISIS has carried out multiple attacks in Jalalabad and in Kabul, targeting everything from government ministries to a midwife training centre.
Last month an ISIS suicide bomber blew himself up near Kabul International Airport, killing 23 people.
The uptick in violence comes as coalition and Afghan forces intensify ground and air offensives against ISIS and as the Taliban step up their turf war with the group.
Earlier this week more than 150 ISIS fighters surrendered in northern Afghanistan -- in a move that Afghan security forces and the Taliban hailed as the end of the extremist group in the north of the country.
The surrender followed the Afghan army's decision to take over security in Jalalabad in ISIS's main stronghold of Nangarhar Province after a spate of attacks, mostly claimed by the group.
Insurgent attacks and suicide bombs were the leading causes of civilian deaths in the first half of 2018, a recent UN report showed.
A total of 1,692 civilians were killed, the highest number for that length of time since the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began keeping records in 2009.
Another 3,430 people were wounded, the report added.