Suicide Attack Hits Russian Embassy in Afghanistan, Killing 2 Employees

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A suicide bomber attacked the Russian Embassy in Kabul on Monday, killing two employees and four Afghan civilians, Russian and Afghan officials said, in the first assault on a diplomatic mission in the country since the Taliban seized power last year.

The attack took place around 11 a.m. at the entrance to the embassy, according to Khalid Zadran, a spokesman for the Kabul police force, when the bomber managed to detonate the explosive in a crowd before Taliban security forces outside the embassy shot and killed him.

The blast was the latest in a steady drumbeat of suicide bombings in recent months that have offered gruesome reminders of the dangers that persist in Afghanistan.

Most attacks over the past year have targeted Taliban members and mosques belonging to Shiites and Sufis, two of the country’s minority groups. Until Monday, since the takeover, foreign delegations in Afghanistan had been spared.

The two embassy employees who were killed were identified by the Russian government as a diplomat and a security guard, and Mr. Zadran said at least 10 others were injured along with the four civilians who died.

The Investigative Committee of Russia, the country’s equivalent to the F.B.I., said in a statement that it would open a criminal case into the attack.

The Taliban have tried to court foreign governments that pulled their missions out of Kabul after the collapse of the Western-backed government. Russia is one of a limited number of countries, including Iran and Pakistan, that have maintained a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover.

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan “condemns in the strongest terms this attack,” Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Twitter. “Our security has launched a comprehensive investigation, & will take further measures to safeguard the Embassy,” he noted.

Russia has hosted multiple Taliban delegations since the takeover and accredited a diplomatic representative for the Taliban in Russia this year, though the Kremlin has not recognized the new government.

“Two of our comrades died,” said Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. “We hope that the organizers and perpetrators of that terrorist act will be punished soon,” he said at the beginning of a meeting with his Tajik counterpart in Moscow on Monday. Mr. Lavrov asked the delegates to stand for a minute of silence.

Late Monday, the Islamic State’s affiliate in the country, known as the Islamic State-Khorasan or ISIS-K, claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks extremism. The group has claimed to have been behind most of the assaults over the past year. ISIS-K holds that the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islam does not go far enough and has sought to undermine the government.

From August 2021 to August 2022, the first year of Taliban rule, ISIS-K claimed 262 attacks in Afghanistan — the same number claimed by the group in the year before the Taliban takeover, according to Abdul Sayed, an analyst with the conflict tracking system ExTrac who focuses on ISIS-K and other jihadist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Of the attacks over the past year, 76 percent have targeted the Taliban, compared with just 5 percent the year before the Taliban seized power, Mr. Sayed said. The majority of the attacks the previous year targeted the Western-backed government.

The attacks have showcased ISIS-K’s newfound reach outside of its eastern stronghold and undercut the Taliban’s hallmark pledge to provide security.

In recent months, ISIS-K has also claimed at least three rocket attacks launched from Afghanistan into Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, according to Mr. Sayed, underscoring the Taliban’s inability to contain the threat within Afghanistan’s borders.

In recent months, a number of high-profile supporters of the Taliban have been targeted and killed — attacks that have highlighted the Taliban’s inability to protect even the group’s own members.

On Friday, a blast outside a mosque in Herat, a city in western Afghanistan near the border with Iran, killed a prominent cleric with close ties to the Taliban who preached a strict interpretation of Shariah law and had carved out his own fief in a conservative district of the city even before the Taliban seized power.

The explosion rocked the mosque around noon, when worshipers had gathered for Friday Prayer, and killed 18 people including the cleric, Mawlawi Mujib Rahman Ansari, and his brother, according to Hamid Gul Motawakel, spokesman for the provincial governor in Herat. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Last month, another prominent cleric, Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani, was targeted and killed in a suicide bombing. Sheikh Haqqani was a vocal advocate for the Taliban who gave multiple speeches at Taliban military graduation ceremonies encouraging the killing, abduction and harassment of Afghans who worked alongside Western forces under the previous government.

He was also known as a vocal critic of ISIS-K, which claimed responsibility for the attack. His death, like Mawlawi Ansari’s, prompted an outpouring of grief from Taliban leaders.

“Very sadly informed that respected cleric” was “martyred in a cowardly attack by enemies,” Bilal Karimi, a spokesman for the Taliban administration, said at the time, referring to Sheikh Haqqani.

Najim Rahim and Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting.

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