KABUL -- The smell of death permeated the Imam Zaman mosque in Kabul Saturday (October 21), hours after dozens of Shia worshippers were slaughtered by a suicide bomber during evening prayers.
Broken glass and dust covered the red carpet, soaked in the blood of the men, women and children who had been praying on Friday (October 20) when the attacker blew himself up.
The Interior Ministry said 56 people were killed in the attack, which was claimed by the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS). The assault was one of two deadly mosque attacks on Friday -- capping one of the bloodiest weeks in Afghanistan in recent memory.
"The windows of the mosque were broken, and blood and human flesh were spattered everywhere, and you could smell blood and human flesh inside the mosque," Ibrahim, who rushed to the mosque after the blast, told AFP.
"This is absolutely barbarism," he said. "What kind of Islam is this? They are attacking worshippers at the time of prayers. Even mosques are not safe for us to pray."
In recent weeks, the Afghan government has trained and armed more than 400 civilians to boost security at Shia mosques in Kabul, which have been targeted repeatedly by ISIS militants.
Women entering the Imam Zaman mosque were not checked, said Ibrahim, a community leader.
"We believe the bomber wore a woman's long veil and sneaked into the mosque and detonated himself among the worshippers," he said.
'Worshippers covered in blood'
The attacker detonated his explosive device among the worshippers towards the end of the prayer session, an eyewitness told AFP.
"It was one suicide bomber packed with explosives and hand grenades wrapped around his body," the man told AFP.
"I was in the mosque ablution area when I heard a blast," Hussain Ali told AFP shortly after the explosion. "I rushed inside the mosque and saw all the worshippers covered in blood."
"Some of the wounded were fleeing," he said. "I tried to stop someone to help me help the wounded, but everyone was in a panic. It took ambulances and the police about an hour to reach the area."
The dead and wounded were taken to hospitals around the city.
"It was a chaotic scene. Everyone was shouting and screaming for help and yelling for their loved ones," Jan Ali, a regular worshipper at the mosque, told AFP from his hospital bed.
He suffered burns and shrapnel wounds to his face, hands and legs. His hearing was also impaired by the intensity of the explosion.
The force of the blast shattered all the windows of the mosque. Its walls and ceiling were covered with dark blood spatters and peppered with shrapnel.
Hundreds of sandals littered the entrance to the mosque, left behind by the worshippers killed and wounded. Other plastic sandals were caught in the razor wire on top of the perimeter wall after being flung out the windows.
A woman wearing a hijab sobbed as she crouched on the ground searching for the shoes of her brother and young nephews who died in the attack.
Several men moved around the room picking up dozens of coloured prayer beads and copies of the Koran as well as chunks of plaster and shards of glass on the floor.
"What kind of Muslims are they? What is our government doing?" Rasoul, a shopkeeper in the area, told AFP as he sobbed.
"We are tired of living here; we are not even safe inside the holy sites."
A series of militant attacks
Hours after the suicide bombing, the Taliban fired two rockets at the headquarters of NATO's Resolute Support Mission in the heavily fortified diplomatic quarter of Kabul. There were no casualties.
The missile attack was followed by a suicide bombing that killed 15 Afghan army cadets in Kabul, taking to five the number of deadly ambushes on police and military bases since last Tuesday (October 17).
Separately on Friday, a suicide bomber killed 20 Afghans at a mosque in Ghor Province.
By Saturday, the death toll for the week stood at more than 200.