The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a deadly attack near the Kabul mosque on Monday, after the Taliban said they had destroyed an IS sleeper cell in the Afghan capital.
The jihadist group said through its propaganda arm Amaq that at least five people were killed in Sunday’s attack and it was carried out by an IS suicide bomber.
Prior to the claim, Taliban’s chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP that preliminary information suggested IS-linked groups were responsible.
The radical Islamist Taliban has set up an interim Afghan government after capturing Kabul seven weeks ago, but still faces attacks from the IS regional branch.
Mujahid said Taliban fighters launched an operation on Sunday evening targeting an IS cell north of Kabul.
“The IS center was completely destroyed and all IS members were killed,” the Mujahid said on Twitter.
Witnesses and AFP journalists heard explosions and gunfire in the capital at the time of the raid, and photos posted on social media showed a large explosion and fire at the scene.
Abdul Rahman, a Kabul resident and government employee, told AFP that “a large number” of Taliban special forces attacked at least three houses in his neighbourhood.
“The fighting continued for several hours,” he said, adding that the sound of weapons kept him awake all night.
“They said they were chasing Daesh (IS) fighters in the area,” Rahman said.
“I don’t know how many were killed or arrested but the fighting was intense.”
At the scene on Monday, AFP saw several Taliban gunmen standing guard, preventing people from accessing the property.
Police pickup trucks can be seen heading towards the site, one of which came back loaded with household items including furniture, a carpet and kitchen appliances.
The operation took place within hours of Sunday’s blast, which targeted a prayer ceremony at the Eidgah mosque in memory of the mother of Taliban spokesman Mujahid, who died last week.
A government cultural commission official, who asked not to be named, told AFP that five people were killed and 11 wounded, with the casualties including both civilians and Taliban members.
“We have also arrested three people in connection with the blast,” he said.
trail of blood
According to the official, the device was placed at the entrance of the mosque and detonated as mourners expressed their condolences to the Mujahid and his family.
An eyewitness to the mosque told AFP on condition of anonymity that Sunday’s attack on the entrance was carried out by a suicide bomber.
Just outside the east gate, a black spot was visible on the ground where the explosion had occurred and bullet holes could be seen in a wall.
Witnesses said a group of Taliban members – including senior men – came under fire after an explosion inside the grounds of the mosque, leaving two casualties.
He said two Taliban units accidentally opened fire on each other in the confusion following the blast, but Interior Ministry spokesman Qari Syed Khosti denied that there had been any firing.
“A suicide bomber detonated his explosives in the middle of the crowd, killing three people and injuring a dozen,” he said.
Traces of blood in the mosque, as well as two red pools where witnesses said wounded fighters were treated inside, were seen by AFP reporters on Monday.
The Taliban and the Afghanistan branch of IS – known as Islamic State-Khorasan Province or IS-K – are both radical Sunni Islamist terrorist groups.
But they differ on issues of religion and strategy, which has led to a bloody battle between the two.
The United Nations condemned Sunday’s mosque attack in Afghanistan.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)