Taliban militants deny involvement in Kabul shrine attack

A deadly attack on a Kabul shrine was not the work of Taliban militants, the Islamist group said Wednesday.

The "attack on shrine goers in Karta Sakhi Kabul has nothing to with us, were are deeply affected by attack on civilians," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a tweet.

The Tuesday night attack left 16 dead and 54 wounded, according to the Afghan Interior Ministry. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) put the death toll at 18, with 50 wounded. UNAMA also condemned the attack.

The attacker entered the Sakhi shrine, located in Kabul's Kart-e Sakhi neighbourhood, on Tuesday evening and began shooting at people as they prayed, said Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi. The gunman was later shot dead.

A second attack was also reported on a mosque in the same neighbourhood, but few details were yet available.

"The second terrorist attack in Kabul tonight was on Char Yar Mosque in Karte Char, Special forces went there to gun down the attackers," said Sediqqi.

The attack on came on the eve of the holy day of Ashura, which is mainly observed by Shia Muslims to mark the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the prophet Mohammad.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Afghan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah condemned the attack on the shrine, adding that attack on civilians amounts to "a war crime and human rights violation." 

During Ashura in 2011, attacks in Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif and Kandahar left at least 80 people dead.

In the past week, Taliban forces have launched offensives in Kunduz, northern Baghlan and southern Helmand provinces, meaning Afghan forces have had to stretch themselves thin to respond.

Taliban forces are on the retreat in Kunduz, but fighting in Helmand has picked up in the past days.

The Taliban attack on Kunduz started October 3, exactly a year to the date after the militant group took hold of the strategically important city for two weeks before being driven out by Afghan forces.

"The entire Kunduz city is now controlled by the security forces and life is slowly returning to normal with shops slowly opening," Amruddin Wali, a provincial council member from Kunduz said.

Wali said the insurgents retreated from some areas without putting up a fight.

At least 35,000 people have been displaced from Kunduz since the fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban militants started, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, security sources say that Taliban's retreat could be a tactical one, "either to send the fighters to the south for battle in Helmand or lure the special forces out of Kunduz and then hitting the city again."

Meanwhile, fighting in the city of Lashkargah, capital of Helmand, has been getting worse, with Taliban forces launching attacks in different parts of the city.

At least two locations inside the city were under attack Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, with reports of massive surrenders by Afghan security forces to the Taliban.

"Around 150 ANSF soldiers have surrendered to Taliban since the fighting has flared," said Razia Baluch, a provincial council member from Helmand province.

Helmand is one of the most embattled provinces in southern Afghanistan. Its last two relatively safe districts have been under heavy Taliban fire.

Last update: Wed, 12/10/2016 - 13:43

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