KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Attacks in Afghanistan targeting places of worship, religious leaders and worshippers, including attacks against Shiite Muslims, have increased sharply in the past year and a half, the United Nations said Tuesday.
A special report by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has documented 51 incidents of such attacks since January 2016 that resulting in 850 civilian casualties — 273 killed and 577 wounded.
UNAMA's report said the figure is nearly double the number of such attacks documented between 2009 and 2015, when the total number of such casualties was 475.
Among the attacks cited in the report was an October suicide bombing in which the attacker first lobbed a grenade into the women's section of the Imam-e-Zaman Shiite mosque in the Afghan capital, Kabul, then detonated his suicide vest amid the worshippers, killing 57 and wounding 55.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.
In addition to suicide attacks targeting worshippers, UNAMA said it documented 27 attacks since Jan 1, 2016 that targeted individuals deemed to be members of the military as they were praying in mosques.
"These attacks killed 28 civilians and injured an additional 15. The mission recorded 10 such attacks in 2016 and 17 attacks in 2017, including two targeted killings inside of mosques for which the Taliban claimed responsibility," the report said.
In addition to Taliban and other militant attacks, UNAMA also documented three instances of pro-government forces targeting insurgents inside mosques. Most of those incidents involved search operations and airstrikes in 2016 and 2017 when mosques were suspected of being used by insurgents — something that may have lost the structures the protected status of places of worship.
UNAMA's report concluded with the recommendation that "anti-government elements ... immediately cease attacks directed at places of worship, religious leaders and worshippers," and stop using places of worship for militant purposes.
UNAMA also commended measures already taken by the Afghan government, and recommended further action to protect people and places of worship from attacks.