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Afghanistan mosque blast kills dozens

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

A suicide bombing at a Shiite mosque in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar killed multiple people today. The attack occurred during Friday prayers and comes only a week after a similar attack in the country's north. Kandahar is considered a Taliban stronghold, and the attack raises questions about the Taliban's ability to stop the violence. NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us from Islamabad. Peter, what do we know about the attack?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, the attack, as you said, took place in Afghanistan's second-largest city at the very large Imam Bargah mosque in Kandahar. These - the explosions came - as local witnesses said, several hundred worshippers were present. Authorities are still piecing together some of the details. Witnesses so far have agreed that there was more than one bomber setting off explosions in this very large mosque, in a very crowded place of worship.

MARTÍNEZ: And there's been more than one attack like this.

KENYON: Well, certainly. Pakistanis are no strangers to violence. The overused phrase about living in a dangerous neighborhood certainly applies here. This rivalry between the Taliban and ISIS militants is just the latest source of danger to the population. This is the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban. The rise of another branch of ISIS several years ago sparked this deadly rivalry that continues with terrible consequences for civilians - in this case, worshippers in a mosque.

MARTÍNEZ: Has anybody claimed responsibility?

KENYON: Not yet. People are already comparing it, however, to last Friday's explosion at a Shiite mosque at the other end of the country, up in the northern city of Kunduz. That was also a suicide bombing, and it was claimed by ISIS Khorasan Province, or ISIS-K. If confirmed that this was another ISIS-K operation, this bombing could be seen as a powerful message from ISIS-K to the Taliban, basically signaling they can strike anywhere, even reaching into the Taliban's main stronghold.

MARTÍNEZ: So, Peter, I mean, what does this tell us about where things might be headed?

KENYON: Well, obviously, it's a troubling sign, and it really suggests there could be more violence to come. Taliban officials have been saying more than once that they have the capability to deal with the ISIS-K threat. And now, after these two consecutive attacks, there's bound to be increased pressure on the government to respond. And if and when they do respond, people in Afghanistan will be bracing for a return of tit for tat violent attacks like we've seen in the past two weeks. They'll once again be wondering when it might end.

You know, people had begun to breathe easier after 20 years of conflict. The Americans had withdrawn from Afghanistan. Yes, the Taliban was in charge, but at least there now might be a chance, with one leader in firm control, for things to quiet down somewhat. Now that doesn't seem to be an option. Certainly doesn't seem clear that that's going to happen, and this prospect for more suffering to come is likely to make things even more difficult for the Taliban, which is seen as more of a fighting force than a governing entity. So basically, what looked to be a steep learning curve might also now be taking place in a very difficult and dangerous environment.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Islamabad. Peter, thank you.

KENYON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.

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