Blast hits Afghan capital near Shi'ite mosque, killing at least one

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KABUL (Reuters) - Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide attack near a large Shi’ite mosque in the Afghan capital on Friday that killed at least one person and wounded five others.

The blast hit the Qala-e Fatehullah area of the city, near the Hussainya mosque, and came as security forces were on alert for possible attacks during Ashura, the holiest celebration in the Shi’ite religious calendar.

President Ashraf Ghani issued a statement saying that the attackers would not be able to shake the unity of the Afghan people with their “inhumane and irreligious” attacks.

A statement from Islamic State, which has claimed a string of attacks on Shi’ite targets over the past two years, said its fighters had carried out the attack.

Afghanistan, a mainly Sunni Islamic country, has mostly avoided the sectarian violence that has devastated countries such as Iraq, but there have been increasing numbers of attacks on Shi’ite targets in recent years.

Security officials said at least two attackers had been killed as they carried out the operation, apparently intended to hit the mosque, just a month after 20 people were killed during prayers at another Shi’ite mosque in Kabul.

A hospital run by the Italian aid group Emergency said five wounded had been brought in following the blast but a witness at the scene said eight or nine people had been wounded or killed.

The local affiliate of Islamic State has claimed several attacks on Shi’ite targets in Kabul in recent years and the government has allowed the Shi’ite community to place armed guards near mosques ahead of Ashura.

No reliable census information exists on the size of the Shi’ite community in Afghanistan, but estimates range around 10-20 percent, with most coming from the Persian-speaking Hazara and Tajik ethnic groups.

Reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Akram Walizada and Mostafa Hashem in CAIRO; Editing by Kevin Liffey