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At least 25 killed in Afghan suicide bombings

A car bombing in Iraq in 2006. (U.S. Department of Defense)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Afghan police say at least 25 people have been killed in twin suicide blasts at a Shi’ite mosque in southeastern Afghanistan.

Raz Mohammad Mandozai, the police chief of Paktia Province, said two suicide bombers detonated their explosives inside the Khawaja Hassan mosque in the provincial capital of Gardez on August 3.

Mandozai said the suicide bombers, who he said were disguised in burqas, first killed two security guards at the entrance of the mosque before firing on worshippers and detonating their explosives.

Mandozai said at least 40 people were wounded in the attack and were rushed to nearby hospitals.

Sardar Wali Tabasun, the police spokesman for Paktia Province, said the attack occurred after Friday Prayers.

Officials warned that the death toll could rise.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, although similar attacks in the past have been claimed by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, which has a presence in eastern Afghanistan.

The Sunni extremist group has frequently targeted Afghanistan’s Shi’ite minority, which IS calls “apostates.”

The stronghold of the IS group is in neighboring Nangarhar Province, which has been the scene of multiple IS attacks in recent months that have killed dozens.

Many of those killed in the blasts in Gardez were Pashtun Shi’a, known as the Turi or Torai.

Most Turi live in Pakistan’s northwestern Kurram tribal district, while a smaller population lives in Paktia.

The Turi have been targeted in both countries for decades by extremist groups, including the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, and Al-Qaeda.

The attack in Gardez comes as U.S. and Afghan forces are intensifying ground and air offensives against IS, and the Taliban is stepping up its war with the group.

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

In April, IS militants claimed responsibility for an attack on a voter registration office in a heavily Shi’ite-populated area in the Afghan capital, killing 57 people and wounding over 100 others.

According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, 161 people were killed and 257 others were wounded in 2017 in targeted sectarian attacks against Shi’ite places of worship or worshippers.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP