KABUL – At least 30 people died in a burst of violence around Afghanistan on Friday, including 10 mostly civilian victims of a suicide bombing outside a mosque in Kabul’s Shiite community and 18 Afghan police and soldiers killed in scattered fighting in northern Takhar province, officials said.
The unusually deadly spate of insurgent violence came 10 days after a dramatic offer by President Ashraf Ghani to hold unconditional peace talks with Taliban militants, whose fighters have been battling Afghan forces in Takhar and a dozen other provinces.
The group has not publicly responded to Ghani’s invitation and previously said it would negotiate only with U.S. officials. It has continued its armed push in rural pockets and periodic urban attacks, but it has put out several feelers in recent weeks, including a public letter that asked “the American people” to persuade U.S. officials to abandon the costly 16-year-war.
“The Taliban has increased its assaults in various parts of the country,” said Taj Mohammad Ahmadzada, an Afghan analyst. “These attacks are a blow to the president’s efforts to hold talks with the Taliban and a clear signal that they reject his offer.”
The bombing in southwest Kabul was claimed by the Islamic State. It was the latest in a succession of periodic bombings and other attacks on Shiite mosques, shrines and events that have taken hundreds of lives in Kabul’s minority ethnic Hazara community since 2016.
Police said a lone bomber on foot approached a mosque where people were gathering to commemorate the 1995 death of Abdul Ali Mazari, a Hazara militia leader who was killed by the Taliban. They said security forces stopped the man at a checkpoint, where he detonated his explosives, killing seven people instantly, including one police officer.
Officials later put the death toll at 10 and said 22 others were wounded. The attack provoked spontaneous angry protests in the streets around the mosque, with residents denouncing the government for failing to protect the community.
The Islamic State has taken responsibility for numerous attacks on Shiite mosques, shrines and events over the past several years, including a devastating bomb blast in July 2016 that killed 80 people at a peaceful street demonstration by Hazara students and activists. The Taliban also has claimed attacks in the city’s Shiite Hazara community.
Both extremist groups are trying to provoke sectarian conflict between Afghan Sunnis and Shiites, and many of their attacks have been staged on Fridays, the weekly Muslim holy day for both sects, or during Shiite periods of religious mourning and celebration. The violence became so frequent that the government last year trained and armed local Hazara men to guard community mosques.
Insurgent violence recently has struck other parts of the capital, including a string of attacks during 10 days in January that left more than 150 people dead and hundreds wounded. In that time, a luxury hotel was stormed by gunmen and bombers, a military training academy was raided and an ambulance filled with explosives detonated on a busy street.
In rural clashes Thursday night and Friday, officials said, a Taliban ambush killed 10 police officers in one area of Takhar, while eight Afghan soldiers were killed in a separate Taliban attack. Officials said six members of the Afghan security forces were killed in other scattered attacks.