An Afghan boy walks through the the scene of a suicide attack on a Shiite cultural center in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

An Afghan boy walks through the the scene of a suicide attack on a Shiite cultural center in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Islamic State kills 41 in attack on Afghan cultural centre

KABUL — An Islamic State suicide bomber struck a Shiite cultural centre in Kabul on Thursday, killing at least 41 people and underscoring the extremist group’s growing reach in Afghanistan even as its self-styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria has been dismantled.

The attack may have targeted the pro-Iran Afghan Voice news agency housed in the two-story building. The Sunni extremists of IS view Shiite Muslims as apostates and have repeatedly attacked Afghanistan’s Shiite minority and targets linked to neighbouring Iran.

The attack wounded more than 80 people, many of whom suffered severe burns.

Local Shiite leader Abdul Hussain Ramazandada said the bomber slipped into an academic seminar at the centre and blew himself up among the participants. More bombs went off just outside the centre as people fled.

The IS-linked Aamaq news agency said four bombs were used in the assault, one strapped to the suicide attacker. It said the centre was funded by Iran and used to propagate Shiite beliefs.

Ali Reza Ahmadi, a journalist with Afghan Voice, said he leaped from the window of his second-floor office after the first bomb went off and saw flames pouring from the basement.

“I jumped from the roof toward the basement, yelling at people to get water to put out the fire,” he said.

At nearby Istiqlal Hospital, Director Mohammed Sabir Nasib said the emergency room was overwhelmed. Additional doctors and nurses were called in to help. At the height of the crisis, more than 50 medics were working to save the wounded.

By late afternoon, Health Ministry spokesman Wahid Mujro said 41 people were dead and 84 others wounded.

The cultural centre was housed in a simple building surrounded by mud-brick homes in the Shiite-dominated neighbourhood of Dasht-e-Barchi, home to some of Kabul’s poorest residents.

A senior member of the local Shiite clerical council, Mohammad Asif Mesbah, said the centre may have been targeted because it houses Afghan Voice. The news agency’s owner, Sayed Eissa Hussaini Mazari, is a strong proponent of Iran, and the agency’s output is dominated by Iranian news.

On Thursday, the centre was marking the anniversary of the 1979 Soviet invasion with a seminar about the event’s impact on the country. Mesbah said the invasion, which led to decades of war and unrest that continue to the present day, was the “beginning of all of Afghanistan’s disasters.”

Iran, a Shiite-majority country bordering Iraq and Afghanistan, has provided heavy military and financial aid to the Syrian government as well as regional Shiite militias battling IS in recent years.

The extremist group is now largely confined to a few remote patches of territory in Syria, but it retains the ability to inspire and carry out attacks further afield. Powerful affiliates in Afghanistan and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula continue to launch regular assaults against security forces and civilians.

The IS affiliate in Afghanistan, which emerged in 2014 at around the same time the group declared a caliphate in large parts of Syria and Iraq, has vowed to target Shiites. The militants attacked the Iraqi Embassy and two Shiite mosques in Kabul earlier this year, killing dozens of people. A suicide attack on the largest Shiite mosque in the western Herat province last summer killed at least 90 people.

Afghanistan’s IS affiliate largely consists of displaced Uzbek militants and disgruntled former members of the much larger and more entrenched Taliban movement. The Taliban and IS share the goal of overthrowing Afghanistan’s Western-backed government and imposing a harsh version of Islamic law, but they are fiercely divided over leadership, tactics and ideology, and have clashed on a number of occasions. The Taliban denied any involvement in Thursday’s attack.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called the attack a “crime against humanity.” The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, John R. Bass, said, “We remain confident the Afghan government and people, supported by their friends and partners, will defeat those behind these terrible acts.”

Pakistan, which Afghan and U.S. officials have long accused of harbouring militants, condemned the “dastardly” attack in Kabul and vowed to stand with Afghanistan in its fight against terrorism. Pakistan has denied that it shelters militants and has in turn accused Afghanistan of failing to crack down on extremist groups.

Toby Lanzer, the acting head of the United Nations mission to Afghanistan, said the bombing was “another truly despicable crime in a year already marked by unspeakable atrocities.”

Afghan forces have struggled to combat both the Taliban and IS since U.S. and international forces officially concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014 and shifted to a support and counterterrorism role more than a decade after the American-led invasion that toppled the Taliban.

President Donald Trump has ordered an additional 3,800 U.S. troops to Afghanistan since announcing a new strategy in August aimed at ending America’s longest war, bringing the total U.S. forces there to at least 15,000.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at a homeless shelter in Romford, east London, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Augstein
Select Alberta physicians to begin offering COVID-19 vaccine next week

Some Alberta physicians will now be offering the COVID-19 vaccine. In an… Continue reading

An example of zero lot line properties. Red Deer County council approved rezoning to allow zero lot line properties on three streets in Springbrook.
Photo from Red Deer County
Narrower house lots being tested in Springbrook to improve affordability

Zero lot line homes will be built on three streets in Springbrook

Mayzie the Canada goose is back nesting in a flower pot on a backyard balcony in Anders on the Lake. (Contributed)
Canada goose is back nesting on Red Deer balcony

Third year in a row geese return

(Black Press file photo).
A third candidate enters Red Deer’s fall mayoral race

Two additional people are campaigning for seats on city council

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney updates media on measures taken to help with COVID-19, in Edmonton on Friday, March 20, 2020. Alberta is set to join three other provinces in exploring the feasibility of small modular reactors as a clean energy option. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Four provinces to sign memorandum of understanding to explore small nuclear reactors

Alberta government said in August that it would enter into the agreement to help diversify its energy sector

File photo
City of Wetaskiwin awarded $5.1 million grant for additional RCMP officers

10 Additional RCMP officers to serve the City of Wetaskiwin as a result of the grant.

In this Nov. 12, 1995, file photo, Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy looks on during the second quarter of the Bills game against the Atlanta Falcons at Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Bill Sikes, File
Former Alouettes head coach Marv Levy tops 2021 Canadian Football Hall of Fame class

The ‘21 class will boost the Hall of Fame’s membership to 316

Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, provides an update on health system preparations in Nova Scotia for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, in Halifax on Friday, March 6, 2020. Strang says plans are in place to stage the women’s world hockey championship in the province next month with limited spectators.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Nova Scotia plans to allow limited crowds at women’s world hockey championship

All 10 teams in Halifax and Truro must participate in a 14-day quarantine

”Kim’s Convenience” cast member Andrew Phung poses in this undated handout photo. “Kim’s Convenience” has just ended but Andrew Phung is already “knee-deep in ideas and stories” for his next project, “Run the Burbs.” The Calgary-raised actor, who played comical car-rental employee Kimchee on “Kim’s,” co-created the upcoming comedy series and will star in it as a stay-at-home dad with an entrepreneur wife and two kids. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - CBC
‘Kim’s Convenience’ actor Andrew Phung on crafting his own series, ‘Run the Burbs’

‘Run the Burbs’ production could start in the summer or fall

Canisia Lubrin poses in this undated handout photo. Rising literary talent Canisia Lubrin is among the Canadian finalists for the $65,000 Griffin Poetry Prize. The Griffin Trust announced the three homegrown wordsmiths and four international poets on this year’s short list on Wednesday. Lubrin, who recently received the US$165,000 Windham-Campbell Prize, is nominated for “The Dyzgraphxst” (pronounced diss-graff-ist), published by McClelland and Stewart. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Anna Keenan
Rising writer Canisia Lubrin among Canadian finalists for $65K Griffin Poetry Prize

Griffin will award two winners, one international and one Canadian

A prairie fire in the Burnt Lake district. (Photo by Bert Fors via Red Deer Archives)
Michael Dawe: Fires of spring 1931 in central Alberta

Central Alberta has just come through a relatively warm and dry winter… Continue reading

Gwynne Dyer
Opinion: Boris Johnson is to blame for what’s happening in Ireland

Twenty-three years of peace in Northern Ireland, after a sectarian war that… Continue reading

Most Read