At least four people have been killed in Kabul after a suicide bomber and gunmen attacked a mosque where worshippers had gathered for an important Shia holiday.
claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes after weeks of escalating violence that have turned this year’s holy month of Ramadan into one of the most violent periods in the Afghan capital since 2001.
Thursday’s attack began when a suicide bomber was prevented from entering al-Zahra mosque in western Kabul, prompting an exchange of fire with police, according to Najib Danish, a spokesman for the interior ministry.
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The attacker detonated his explosives in a kitchen outside the prayer hall. Some reports said gunfire continued from other attackers after the blast.
A witness, Hussein Endali, said he heard police shouting before an explosion ripped through the courtyard. “I sat in my car for 30 minutes while gunfire was going on,” Endali said, adding that he saw at least three dead bodies.
Kabul police said four people were dead, including three civilians, and five were wounded. The numbers were expected to rise. Local media said six people had been killed.
Al-Zahra mosque in Dasht-e Barchi is often visited by officials and politicians. It was unclear whether any dignitaries were among the victims.
Among the dead was Haji Ramazan, a well-known local businessman who helped found the mosque.
The attack was the latest in a string of deadly assaults on civilians during Ramadan. On 31 May a truck bomb in Kabul’s diplomatic quarter . Days later at an anti-government protest. A triple suicide bombing at a funeral for one of the protesters , according to officials.
The 21st day of Ramadan holds special importance to Shia Muslims who commemorate the martyrdom in 661 AD of Imam Ali, who they believe was the rightful heir to the prophet Muhammad.
It was the third attack on a Shia mosque in Kabul since October. Gunmen in one attack, and a in another. Islamic State news outlets claimed responsibility for both attacks.
The Taliban denied responsibility for Thursday’s attack, claiming they never targeted mosques. However, in an in April, Taliban fighters killed more than 140 mostly unarmed soldiers, some of them while leaving the base’s mosque.
On Wednesday the UN’s secretary general, António Guterres, landed in Kabul for talks with government and civic leaders .