HERAT: Shias prepared to take to the streets of Afghanistan's Herat Wednesday following a deadly mosque attack as anger grew over authorities' failure to prevent the latest assault on the minority community.
Thirty worshippers including young children were killed and 64 injured when suicide bombers throwing grenades stormed the Jawadya mosque in the western city near the Iranian border late Tuesday. Nobody has so far claimed the attack, but it came a day after the Islamic State group said it had carried out a deadly assault on the Iraqi embassy in Kabul as it extends its footprint in the war-torn country.
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Shias, a minority of around three million in overwhelmingly Sunni Afghanistan, have regularly been targeted by IS militants over the last year. They accuse police and troops of failing to protect them. "We are going to bury the bodies this afternoon and then hit the streets demanding justice," said a sobbing Farhad Dost, whose cousin died in the attack.
"I lost all my loved ones, they even killed children as young as seven. This wasn't an attack on Shias, this was an attack on all Afghans, all Muslims," he told AFP. Members of the Shia community said police had abandoned them after the two attackers struck at around 8:00 pm (1530 GMT) on Tuesday.
"The police checkpost is around 100 metres from the mosque. They didn't even try to stop the attackers. They all fled when they heard the blasts," said a distraught Dost. Angry locals then clashed with the police and set the checkpost on fire, according to witnesses who reported that officers opened fire, injuring some demonstrators.
Farhad Afshar rushed to the mosque, where worshippers had gathered for prayers, after hearing the explosion.
"When I arrived the mosque was full of flesh and blood. I saw a mother crying and searching for her two children. She found one them wounded inside the mosque, the other was found dead in an ambulance," he told AFP. Quoting survivors, he said the attackers first opened fire on the worshippers, then threw grenades before finally blowing themselves up inside the mosque.
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Witnesses described scenes of terror and chaos, with emergency wards overwhelmed and survivors rushing victims to hospital in their own vehicles and even on foot. "There weren't enough ambulances... I tried to take a small child to hospital but he died in my hands," Ali, who only gave one name, told AFP.
Jilani Farhad, a spokesperson for Herat's governor, said the death toll was expected to rise past 30 because several wounded were in a critical condition. IS has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks killing dozens of Shias in Kabul over the past year, including twin explosions in July 2016 that ripped through crowds of Shia Hazaras, killing at least 85 people and wounding more than 400.
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