Afghan Shi’ites despair as they bury mosque attack dead

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KUNDUZ, AFGHANISTAN (AFP) – Shuja kneels to mutter a prayer, his fingertips touching the small mound of earth now covering the body of his 12-year-old brother Shaia, killed by a suicide bomber.

Shaia had gone to pray on Friday at the Gozar-e-Sayed mosque in Kunduz, and was among scores of Shi’ite Muslims who died in the blast, including three other members of his family who now lay buried beside him.

“It’s so raw right now,” Shuja tells AFP, just after he has buried his young sibling.

“Words cannot explain the emotions in my heart.”

Friday’s suicide bombing was the latest in a string of attacks on Afghanistan’s minority Shi’ite community – branded heretics by Sunni Muslim extremists like the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) group, which claimed the attack.

“We have four martyrs from one family. Now every home has martyrs,” Shuja says, shaken with grief.

“We cannot bear it anymore. We’ve been living for so many years with this misery.”

The 19-year-old had decided not to go to the mosque for Friday prayers, but rushed to the scene when he heard about the bombing, and fainted when he found his brother among the bloodied corpses.

“Some are totally lost, and they can’t be found. Some bodies are without heads or arms,” he said.

“I wish that someday my country could be peaceful like other countries.”

Coated in dust

As gravediggers shovel the earth, a brisk wind blows dust across the arid Sar-e-Dawara cemetery, where more than 60 victims were buried on Saturday.

According to Islamic tradition, burials should take place as soon as possible, usually within 24 hours of death.

The cemetery workers – their faces and clothes cloaked in the fine dust and hands caked in soil – quickly dig one grave after another as traumatised families grieve for their loved ones.

A group of 60 to 70 people gather around one plot, where close relatives of a 17-year-old victim sob and wail inside the grave itself before a prayer reader recites phrases from the Quran.

A stretcher lies to the side of the burial site, as well as plywood coffins that housed the bodies – shrouded in white – before they were lowered into the ground.

‘We have dreams’

Ahmadshah Hashemy, a cousin of 12-year-old Shaia, tells AFP he feels “very insecure”.

“This is a disaster for our people, especially for the Shi’ites that have been targeted under different governments,” he says at the cemetery.

The Taliban promised improved security for all Afghans after they swept to power in August, and Hashemy says he thought the recent change in government would bring security to his community.

“But unfortunately, we see this big suicide attack took place and targeted our poor people, our young generation who were not involved in any political situation,” he said.

“They were just poor people, they were just civilians.”

The 35-year-old construction engineer from Kunduz says five other members of his family are being treated at a nearby hospital.

Locals say more than 100 people died and more than 200 were seriously injured in the attack.

“This is a crime against children,” Hashemy says.

“They were the young generation. Some of them planned to get married, and some of them planned to continue education.”

“Now they are buried in there,” he says, pointing to the freshly covered graves.

“We are all human, we have dreams.

“We have the dreams to take part in the construction of our society and the infrastructure of our country,” he says.

“But these insurgents, these criminals, bring darkness into our lives.”

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