Kabul mosque attack underlines persistent Islamic State threat to Shia, which could grow further as group seeks to maintain status
An Islamic State (IS) attack on a Shia mosque in Kabul killed 28 people and injured more than 50 others on 25 August. A suicide bomber detonated his device at the entrance during Friday prayers, before three gunmen besieged the building for several hours. IS also claimed a suicide bombing that killed two police officers and a civilian outside the capital’s International Cricket Stadium on 13 September.
Our last Report noted that IS would want to respond to US pressure by carrying out a major attack, potentially against Shia or government interests in Kabul, to protect its credibility. The latest violence reinforces our analysis, and shows that sustained military operations against IS have not degraded its ability to operate in the capital. Targeting Shia interests could become an even greater priority for IS in the coming months, as it seeks to maintain its image as the leader of the global jihadist movement despite the impending loss of its Caliphate. At this point it could become increasingly reliant on fueling sectarian tensions to present itself as the primary defender of Sunni Muslims.
While the threat to Shia interests will therefore be persistent, the risk will be heightened during the religious month of Muharram (due to begin on 22 September) and the commemoration of Ashura (around 30 September). IS may also increase its efforts to target US interests, since it could present such attacks as retaliation for Washington’s campaign against it in Syria and Iraq. Linking violence to the global jihadist agenda would increase its likely appeal and so help the group to attract supporters. However, IS’s ability to strike heavily guarded facilities will be limited by ongoing US and Afghan military operations against it, and so it will likely have more success against soft targets in Kabul, or more secure sites in its strongholds, primarily in the eastern Nangarhar province.