Herat: Around 2,000 Shiite Muslims in western Afghanistan staged a protest today against growing sectarian attacks by ISIS, as the government warned that the group had expanded its foothold into 11 provinces.
Chanting “Death to the enemies of Afghanistan!” and “Death to Daesh!”, the Arabic acronym for ISIS, the protesters in the city of Herat marched on the governor’s office, carrying pictures of Shiites killed in recent attacks.
“Daesh attacks on our mosques are increasing everyday.
They want to create a rift between Shiites and Sunnis,” Qurban Ali, a 40-year-old demonstrator, told AFP.
“This is a dangerous trend and we want the government to protect us.”
The rise of ISIS has raised the spectre of sectarian discord in Afghanistan, something that the Sunni-majority country has largely been spared despite decades of war.
Until a few months ago ISIS was largely confined to the eastern province of Nangarhar bordering Pakistan, where it is notorious for brutality including beheadings despite a US-backed offensive against the group.
But the government this week said the group was steadily expanding into other provinces.
“Our initial information shows Daesh is behind the recent attacks in Herat. They are expanding and are always looking for new geographical areas,” Najeebullah Mani, head of counter-terrorism at the interior ministry, told reporters in Herat.
“They are present in at least 11 (of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces). Their main goal is to create sectarian divisions between Shiites and Sunnis.”
Herat, which borders Shiite-dominated Iran, has recently witnessed a surge in attacks on the minority group’s mosques.
A prayer leader was killed and five others wounded in one such attack on Sunday. The group did not officially claim responsibility for the assault.
“We will not allow Daesh to make Afghanistan another Syria,” said 30-year-old Jawad, another protester. “The government must come up with a plan to protect Shiites.”
Last year Afghanistan witnessed a wave of attacks on Shiites claimed by ISIS, which considers Shiite Muslims apostates.
At least 14 Shiites were killed in October in a powerful blast at a mosque in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, hours after gunmen targeted Shiite worshippers in a shrine in Kabul and killed 18 people.
In July the ISIS militants targeted members of Kabul’s Shiite community in a suicide bombing that killed more than 80 people and wounded 130.