In Kunduz, police officials were nevertheless picking up the pieces on Friday at the Gozar-e-Sayed Abad Mosque.
Citing preliminary reports, the deputy Taliban police chief of Kunduz province, Dost Mohammad Obaida, said more than 100 people had been killed or wounded, and that he believed the dead outnumbered the wounded.
Hours after his initial statement, Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi said 46 worshipers were killed and 143 wounded in the explosion. He said an investigation was under way to determine the perpetrators.
The death toll of 46 is the highest in an attack since foreign troops left Afghanistan.
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan condemned the attack as “part of a disturbing pattern of violence” targeting religious institutions.
Obaida, the deputy police chief, pledged to protect minorities in the province. “I assure our Shiite brothers that the Taliban are prepared to ensure their safety,” he said.
A noticeable Shiite cleric, Sayed Hussain Alimi Balkhi, condemned the attack and called on the Taliban to provide security for the Shiites of Afghanistan. “We expect the security forces of the government to provide security for the mosques since they collected the weapons that were provided for the security of the worship places,” he said.
The new tone hit by the Taliban, at the minimum in Kunduz, is in sharp contrast to the well-proven history of Taliban fighters committing a litany of atrocities against minorities, including Hazaras. The Taliban, now feeling the weight of governing, employed similar tactics to those of IS during their 20-year insurgency, including suicide bombings and shooting ambushes.
And they have not halted attacks on Hazaras.
Earlier this week, a report by Amnesty International found the Taliban unlawfully killed 13 Hazaras, including a 17-year-old girl, in Daykundi province, after members of the security forces of the former government surrendered.
In Kunduz province, Hazaras make up about 6 per cent of the province’s population of nearly 1 million people. The province also has a large ethnic Uzbek population that has been targeted for recruitment by the IS, which is closely aligned with the militant Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Friday’s attack was the third to target a place of worship or religious study in a week.
IS has also claimed two deadly bombings in Kabul, including the horrific August 26 bombing that killed at the minimum 169 Afghans and 13 US military personnel outside of Kabul airport in the final days of the disorganized American pullout from Afghanistan.
IS also claimed a bombing on Sunday outside Kabul’s Eid Gah Mosque that killed at the minimum five civilians. Another attack on a madrassa, a religious school, in Khost province on Wednesday was not claimed.
If Friday’s attack is claimed by IS, it will also be worrying for Afghanistan’s northern Central Asian neighbours and Russia, which has been courting the Taliban for years as an ally against the creeping IS in the vicinity.
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