Afghanistan marked a national day of mourning yesterday, a day after a suicide bomber killed at least 80 people who were taking part in a peaceful demonstration in Kabul. The attack was claimed by the Islamic State group.
Authorities say another 231 people were wounded, some seriously, in the bombing on Saturday afternoon on a march by members of the ethnic Hazara community, who are predominantly Shi’ite Muslim. Most Afghans are Sunni, and the IS group regards Shi’ites as apostates.
The attack was the first by IS on Kabul — and the capital’s worst since a vicious Taliban insurgency began 15 years ago — raising concerns about the group’s reach and capability in Afghanistan.
Bereaved families collected their dead from hospitals and morgues across the capital, and began digging graves as the first funerals went ahead in the west of the capital.
Many people chose to bury their dead together with others — rather than in traditional family plots — encouraged by organisers of the Saturday demonstration, who call themselves the Enlighten Movement.
In a hilltop graveyard in the Surkh Abad suburb of south-western Kabul, hundreds of people, most of them men, braved high winds and swirling dust to conduct the Shi’ite funeral rites.
Simple wooden coffins covered in the green Shi’ite flag were carried by men on their shoulders and lowered into graves that relatives had dug themselves with shovels.
In the city’s west, in Omaid-a-Sabz, the grieving chose to bury their dead side by side in long rows. Mullah Mohammad Hassan Rasat said the Hazara people felt a deep sense of injustice and anger that the government had not kept its election promise to ensure that development was equal for all Afghan ethnic groups.
“Our people only want justice and equal development for all,” he said.
Hazaras account for up to 15% of Afghanistan’s population, estimated at around 30m, and say they face discrimination. During the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule, the Hazaras were often brutally treated.
The Taliban were quick to deny culpability for attack, however, issuing a statement before IS claimed responsibility.
The attack has raised concerns about sectarianism, and the Interior Ministry announced a ban on public gatherings and demonstrations in an apparent bid to avoid any inter-communal strife.
A presidential spokesman said the ban on public gatherings would not apply to the funerals for Saturday’s victims.
IS has had a presence in Afghanistan for the past year, mainly in the eastern province of Nangarhar along the Pakistani border. The Afghan military, backed by US troops, is planning an offensive against IS positions in Nangarhar in coming days.
Prior to the Saturday attack, thousands of Hazaras had marched through Kabul to demand the rerouting of a power line through Bamiyan, in the highlands.
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