Karim Khalili, the head of Afghanistan’s high peace council, was delivering a speech on peace in a gathering when gunfire erupted on Friday, March 6 at midday in Kabul, the Afghan capital. The ensuing shooting killed 32 civilians and wounded 81 others, terrorizing the western neighborhood of Kabul for hours until the Afghan forces gun downed the militants.

ISIS Claims Responsibility for Attack

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the shooting on civilians which comes amid peace efforts to end the long Afghan war. The attack place just as the United States made a deal with the Taliban a week ago and a meeting between the Afghan government and the Taliban was scheduled for March 10. The slaughter of civilians raised concerns over the continuation of violence even as the West makes peace with the Taliban.

“What is this kind of peace that everyday people are killed,” said Mohammad Hussain, an 18-year-old who was born after the beginning of the war in 2001. “I am numbed and shocked. I have seen dead bodies. With such an attack, there will be no peace.”

What Happened During the Assault?

Hundreds of people had gathered to commemorate slain Hazara leader Abdul Ali Mazari who was killed by the Taliban in 1995 in a large venue in the western part of Kabul on Friday, March 6 where top Afghan politicians, including Abdullah Abdullah and senior leaders of Hazara Shiites ethnic group, were present. Militants of the Islamic State, which has been waging attacks on Afghanistan’s Shiites since 2014, opened fire on the crowds.

After the initial bullet fires, top politicians escaped the scene unharmed, but ordinary people were stuck.  People rushed to exit through a small emergency door and the crowded in one place. Armed with machine guns, hand grenades, and rocket-propelled grenades, the two Islamic state militants took position in a nearby residential building and fired nonstop for nearly an hour from above on the civilians, including women and children.

“I was entering the venue when gunfire erupted,” said eyewitness Mohammad Hussain. “Only ordinary people are hurt. I carried many wounded and dead bodies to a nearby hospital.”

At least four hospitals close to the area were packed with dead bodies and wounded people. Ambulances after one another were delivering dead bodies to their houses which they had left in the morning. One photo circulated on social media pages showed a disabled person was left behind in the fire ground while others had escaped the scene as gunfire continued.

Six Hour Firefight Between Militants and Afghan Special Forces

The two militants exchanged fire with the Afghan special forces for six hours. British forces under the NATO-Resolute Support mission were seen in the area and helped the Afghan forces to battle the militants in a residential building where students were living downstairs.  With assistance from the U.S. forces and advice, the elite forces eliminated the attackers in the dusk of Kabul.

“In Afghanistan, there is disorder and widespread conflict, and Afghan forces lack cooperation among themselves,” said Atiqullah Amirkhil, a retired Afghan army general. “In a city of 7 million populated, there is zero-order and the Taliban and Daesh [another name of the Islamic State] are present.”

The attack received widespread condemnation from the United States, European Union, United Nations, and many other countries. German envoy to Afghanistan Marks Purtzal tweeted that “attacks like these are a serious blow to peace efforts.”

United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan [UNAMA] said in a statement that its “human rights team has documented several previous attacks deliberately carried out against these communities.” Since the emergence of the Islamic State in Afghanistan in 2014, Hazara Shiites ethnic has been repeatedly attacked by the Sunni extremist group of the Islamic State of Khorasan Branch.

“There is conflict over power among Afghan politicians and there is no sympathy and consensus,” said Amirkhil, referring to the political dispute between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani over the election. Afghanistan held presidential election in September 2019, but its dispute has longed until now. After the Afghan election body named Ashraf Ghani winner of the election, Abdullah Abdullah declared his own victory.

Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah had planned to inaugurate their victory on February 27, but the United States had requested from Ashraf Ghani to postpone his inauguration. The United States signed a deal with the Taliban on February 29, laying a timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal and beginning for talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

The Taliban says the group is ready to talk with the Afghan government if their 5,000 imprisoned fighters are released, while the Afghan government has so far refused to release the Taliban fighters from state-run prisons. Meanwhile, Ghani and Abdullah planned to their celebrate victory on Monday 9 March.

The days are counting down as Abdullah and Ghani contests over the election results, but the rivals did show solidarity in the shooting in Kabul. Ashraf Ghani phoned his rival Abdullah Abdullah and called the shooting “crime against humanity.” A day after the shooting, however, senior organizers of the event called for a comprehensive investigation into the shooting.

“Terrorists are trained and exploited in a cultural context,” Mohammad Amin Ahmadi, head of a private university in Kabul, said in a social media post. “The clear sign of the cultural problem is that such attacks do not create massive sympathy with each other and condemnation of such attacks.”

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