On Saturday, July 23rd, two suicide bombers detonated themselves among a crowd of protestors in Kabul, Afghanistan. The large crowd was filled with the country’s Shiite Hazara minority, a group that often suffers discrimination and persecution. The group’s aim was to march against government plans for a major multi-million dollar power project that bypassed through the Bamiyan, a predominantly Hazara province in the central highlands.
Following the attack, Islamic State claimed through their media outlet, Amaq agency, that the terrorist organization had sent two of its fighters to a “Shia gathering” in Kabul and armed them with suicide belts.
The attacks took place in West Kabul near a police building, the city zoo, the national university, and the national parliament. Prior to the Hazara demonstration, the protest had been announced in advance, including the route and locations of the movement.
So far, the suicide bombings has claimed the lives of 80 people and managed to injure over 200. It is the deadliest attack in Kabul since December 2011, when a suicide bomber took the lives of 58 protestors at a Shia mosque in Mazar-e-Sharif.
Officials of Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency, the National Directorate for Security, stated that the July attack had been planned by an individual named Abu Ali, a known Islamic State member based in the Achin district in Nangarhar. The agency also indicated Ali had two accomplices, but did not name them directly.
The victims of the attack consisted of the Persian-speaking Hazara ethnicity that makes up roughly 9 percent of the country’s population and are thought to be the third-largest minority in Afghanistan. During Taliban rule, the group faced heavy discrimination and violence in which thousands were ethnically cleansed.
Since the rise of Islamic State and the insurgent fighting that has occurred in Syria and Iraq, there have been several reports, such as one from the Wall Street Journal, indicating that Iranian forces have recruited Shiites from Afghanistan to fight alongside the Assad regime In Syria. The reports note that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) recruited Afghan Shiite refugees under promise of a $500 monthly salary and Iranian residency papers. Members of the Hazara ethnic group were among the Afghan Shiite foreign fighters listed as having taken up arms for the Iranians.
Due to many Hazaras taking up residence in Syria prior to hostilities breaking out in the country, and around half a million more Hazaras reported to be living in Iran in 2010, the IRGC thought the ethnic group to be a primary target for recruitment in fighting for Assad’s regime. The connection between the IRGC, the Shiite militias in Syria and Iraq, and the Hazara make the group an attractive target for Islamic State in Afghanistan, especially considering that the jihadist organization has previously attacked the ethnic group in Syria.
It is important to note that Islamic State wishes to extend its reach into areas long dominated by Islamic State’s rival, the Taliban. Additionally, the ability for Islamic State to conduct such a large-scale attack in Afghan’s capital undermines the prominence of the Taliban in the area, as well as undermining Afghan security forces and their NATO and US allies. By conducting such a large scale attack, Islamic State ultimately bolsters its own notoriety while simultaneously destabilizing the country.