80 people were killed and over 230 wounded when a double suicide bombing targeted a demonstration by the Shia Hazara community in Kabul on 23 July. The attack was credibly claimed by the Islamic State (IS) affiliate Khorasan Shura, which has targeted the minority before – for example in October last year when it struck a Shia religious hall in the capital. In contrast to Khorasan Shura, the Taliban has eased its anti-Shia stance in recent months and the movement issued a statement denying involvement in the attack. The Taliban has sought to distance itself from its historic persecution of the Hazara minority in order to position itself as a viable future Government.
Khorasan Shura sees aggravating Sunni-Shia tensions as a way to encourage defections from Taliban hardliners who are dissatisfied with the Taliban leadership’s reluctance to target Hazara. The IS group also likely hopes to boost support by associating its campaign in Afghanistan with IS’s global agenda, which prioritises targeting Shia in order to portray itself as the defender of Sunni interests. Furthermore, Khorasan Shura will seek to characterise the attack as retribution for IS’s territorial losses in Syria, since Hazara Shia are among those providing military support to the Assad regime. Attacks against the Hazara will therefore be popular among the wider jihadist community. Indeed, the attack in Kabul suggests that the group has already attracted increased support in recent months, enabling it to deploy some resources outside its stronghold in the eastern Nangarhar Province.