FLASH ALERT: RELIGIOUS SITES LIKELY TARGETS FOR ATTACKS IN AFGHANISTAN AFTER 3 EXPLOSIONS IN 2 WEEKS
Week of: Monday, October 11, 2021
The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT to Afghanistan, the United States, and other countries with personnel and citizens in Afghanistan due to the increased threat by competing terrorist organizations, namely the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) and the Taliban as they vie for control. The current CTG threat matrix indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY that militant groups like ISIS-K will continue attacks in public places, especially religious sites. The current CTG threat matrix also indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY of additional attacks as militant organizations exploit and downplay the Taliban’s inefficient and vulnerable security efforts.
On October 3, a blast hit Eid Gah Mosque in Kabul during a funeral service of Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid’s mother, killing five people and wounding 20. On October 8, a suicide bomber from ISIS-K detonated himself at Gozar-y-Syed Abad Mosque in Kunduz City during Friday prayers, killing at least 50 and wounding 100 worshippers. Most recently, on October 15, four suicide bombers detonated themselves at Bibi Fatima Shia mosque in Kandahar City during Friday prayers, with a provisional death toll of 47 and 70 wounded, but numbers are very likely to increase. ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the October 15 attack.
These explosions, which have taken place in succession and targeted similar locations, very likely reveal that ISIS-K is aware that it can terrorize the minority Shia Muslim population and weaken the Taliban's grip on the country by targeting large gatherings in mosques. Since funerals and Friday prayers are very likely to draw large crowds, militant organizations like ISIS-K will likely continue to target such gatherings in the coming months. This will almost certainly increase insecurity in the country, especially amongst religious minorities like Shia Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians. Religious minorities and places of worship are very likely to continue being targets of bombings by militant organizations like ISIS-K who perceive non-Sunni minorities as infidels and apostates. This likely indicates a two-fold strategy by militant extremists to oppress persecuted minorities and to demonstrate the Taliban’s incompetence in securing Afghanistan.
The rapid attacks over 13 days likely indicate a pattern in Afghanistan of ISIS-K targeting mosques to confront the Taliban. It is very likely that ISIS-K has a strategy that spans nationwide as mosques in major cities including Kabul, Kunduz, and Kandahar have already been attacked. This strategy is likely to instill fear in the population and test Taliban efforts in mitigating the threat to both their forces and to soft targets like mosques. It will also likely hinder Taliban efforts to defeat ISIS-K cells. Other religious sites, like Afghanistan’s Catholic Chapel, and the Sikh Gurudwara Karte Pawan in Kabul will likely be potential targets. The Taliban's legitimacy as the state authority is based on its ability to provide security in Afghanistan. If attacks continue, it is likely that the Taliban’s ability to provide national security will be questioned. The Eid Gah Mosque bombing indicates that Taliban officials will almost certainly be targeted by extremist militant groups like ISIS-K. For this reason, civilians are advised to keep a safe distance from Taliban officials. Since minority religious communities are likely targets, Shia Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and Hindu communities should take precautions when visiting public places. Reducing the number of worshippers attending religious sites, especially during prayers, is likely to reduce casualties in future terrorist attacks.
It is very likely that ISIS-K will bomb other Islamic soft targets like religious schools (madrassas) because they lack adequate security. This will almost certainly increase the psychological fear and a sense of insecurity in Afghanistan as younger people are being targeted. This will almost certainly prevent families from sending their children to madrassas. ISIS-K will likely specifically target madrassas run by the Taliban to symbolize the Taliban’s inability to control and protect religious institutions.
CTG assesses that the current threat of attacks against mosques in Afghanistan is HIGH. Afghanistan, the United States, and other countries with personnel and citizens in Afghanistan are at a HIGH threat from competing terrorist organizations, like ISIS-K and the Taliban. The CENTCOM Team’s analysis indicates that the risk of increased violence against civilians throughout Afghanistan is HIGH due to threats in populated areas. The CENTCOM Team will continue monitoring the situation.
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 Blast hits Kabul Mosque for Taliban`s mother official, Reuters, October 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/blast-afghanistans-kabul-kills-several-civilians-says-taliban-2021-10-03/ers
 Deadly explosion hits Shia mosque in Afghanistan's Kandahar, Al Jazeera, October 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/10/15/explosion-hits-shia-mosque-in-afghanistans-kandahar
 Islamic State claims responsibility for mosque attack in Afghan city of Kandahar -statement, Reuters, October 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/islamic-state-claims-responsibility-mosque-attack-afghan-city-kandahar-statement-2021-10-15/
 ‘All Afghans’ should feel safe under Taliban, says security chief, Al Jazeera, August 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/8/22/all-afghans-should-feel-safe-under-taliban-says-security-chief