ISIS attack kills dozens at Mazari ceremony in Kabul

Salaam Times and AFP

Afghan security personnel March 6 in Kabul guard a road near the site of a gun attack that occurred during a ceremony to mark the 25th anniversary of the death of Shia leader Abdul Ali Mazari. [STR / AFP]

Afghan security personnel March 6 in Kabul guard a road near the site of a gun attack that occurred during a ceremony to mark the 25th anniversary of the death of Shia leader Abdul Ali Mazari. [STR / AFP]

KABUL -- At least 27 people were killed in an attack on an outdoor ceremony in Kabul on Friday (March 6), officials said, in the deadliest assault in Afghanistan since the United States signed a deal with the Taliban.

Gunmen belonging to the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), which took responsibility for the attack, opened fire from a building under construction near the event, according to the BBC.

Women and children were among the dead with an additional 29 wounded, said Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi.

Nizamuddin Jalil, a Health Ministry official, gave a slightly higher toll, saying 29 people had been killed and 30 others wounded.

"The figures will change," he said.

The number of attackers was unknown, while Rahimi said at least "three terrorists" were killed and that troops cleared the area after a six-hour-long shootout.

The Taliban immediately denied responsibility for the assault, which occurred at an annual ceremony commemorating the late Abdul Ali Mazari -- a politician from the Hazara ethnic group, most of whom are Shia.

The Taliban kidnapped and killed Mazari in 1995.

ISIS claimed an attack on the same commemoration ceremony last year, when a barrage of mortar fire killed at least 11 people.

The event took place in the city's largely Shia west.

Photos on social media showed workers collecting several bodies afterward

President Ashraf Ghani condemned the massacre, calling it a "crime against humanity".

The ceremony was attended by many of the country's political elite, including Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.

"All the high-ranking officials were safely evacuated," the Interior Ministry confirmed to reporters.

"We left the ceremony following the gunfire, and a number of people were wounded," Hazara leader Mohammad Mohaqiq told TOLOnews.

Continued violence

The attack highlights the security needed in the heavily fortified Afghan capital just 14 months ahead of the scheduled withdrawal of all foreign forces under an agreement signed on February 29 by Washington and the Taliban.

The US withdrawal hinges to a great extent on the Taliban being able to control terrorist outfits such as ISIS.

If such groups remain, so too does the American military.

Since the deal signing, fighting has continued across Afghanistan, casting a pall over hopes the agreement would lead to a reduction in violence and to talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

ISIS, which follows a radical Sunni interpretation of Islam, first became active in Afghanistan in 2015 and for years held territory in Nangarhar Province.

It has claimed responsibility for a string of horrific bombings, including several in Kabul targeting the city's Shia community.

In recent months the group has been hit by mounting setbacks after being hunted for years by US and Afghan forces along with multiple Taliban offensives targeting their fighters.

Still, ISIS remains in Afghanistan, notably in Kunar Province near the Pakistani border, which also neighbours Nangarhar, as well as in Kabul.

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This is the work of both the Afghan government and Americans. For the past five years, the government has tried by any means to weaken Hazaras. And America gives money to the government to target Hazaras in gatherings because America has a problem with Shias. And it is always trying to weaken Iran, which is the only powerful country of Shias. It is not the first time that the death anniversary of Abdul Ali Mazari, the beloved leader of Hazaras, has been targeted. In the same day of last year, many rockets were fired at the place where the same ceremony was being held, and as result of which many innocent Hazaras were killed. Down with America and its puppet and fascist government. Even Taliban government is better than this government. May God bring the Taliban again in order to kick these technocrats out of the country.