July 26, 2016

TSG IntelBrief: The Islamic State’s Favorite Target

• The Islamic State claimed a double suicide bombing in Kabul on July 23 which targeted a Hazara protest march, killing at least 80 people and wounding 200 more.

• The attack was the deadliest to strike in Kabul since 2001, and was yet another example of the Islamic State’s relentless targeting of Shi’a.

• The Kabul attack follows a July 3 bombing in Baghdad, Iraq, and March 2015 bombings in Sana’a, Yemen, by the Islamic State, which both targeted Shi’a and were among the deadliest in each country’s history.

• While Islamic State-inspired attacks capture the most headlines in the West, Islamic State-directed attacks against Shi’a kill and wound far more people and present one of the group’s most serious long-term threats.


In the face of increasing territorial pressure across the board, the so-called Islamic State's long-held determination to systematically target and kill Shi’a has only increased. While the primary threat posed by the Islamic State in most parts of the world stems from the group’s ability to inspire attacks, in a few countries, the group has continually demonstrated its ability to direct devastating attacks against Shi’a populations. Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan continue to see targeted sectarian attacks that have long been a staple of the group founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Since the declaration of the self-proclaimed caliphate, Islamic State bombings against Shi’a in Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan have proven to be some of the deadliest attacks in the history of each war torn country.

On July 23, two suicide bombers detonated their explosives at a Hazara protest march in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Shi’a Hazara have long been targeted in both Afghanistan and Pakistan; a 1998 massacre in Mazar-e-Sharif by the Taliban killed at least 2,000 Hazara. Though the July 23 attack marks the first Islamic State attack in the Afghan capital, the population targeted in the attack is consistent with the group’s tireless efforts to fan sectarian flames. The bombing is the deadliest attack in Kabul since the 2001 U.S. invasion. In the fifteen years since, the Hazara have seen their political fortunes improve to some degree; the July 23 attack shows it remains a population under threat. Even the Taliban condemned the attack, while the Islamic State-affiliated media outlet Amaq claimed credit.

The July 3 bombing in the Karada district of Baghdad—a city that has seen thousands of bombings since the U.S. invasion of Iraq—was the deadliest attack in the Iraqi capital in thirteen years. The attack, again claimed by the Islamic State through the Amaq News Agency, killed an estimated 300 people and targeted Shi’a shoppers at the end of Ramadan. Since the founding of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)—the predecessor to the Islamic State—the group has made fomenting sectarian tension through its systematic targeting of Shi’a one of its primary goals. From the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samara in February 2006 to the July 3 bombing in Karada, the group has never wavered from its strategy of stoking sectarianism.

In Yemen, the Islamic State claimed credit for a March 2015 multiple-suicide bombing at a Zaydi Shi’a mosque in Sana’a, which killed 142 people—the worst terror attack in the country’s history. That the group’s first claimed attack in Yemen was against a Shi’a mosque is a sign that it is more concerned with mass sectarian killings than it is attacking government targets in the country. 

Far from trying to hide the murder of so many Muslims, the Islamic State celebrates its killing of Shi’a civilians. In Iraq, where Shi’a constitute the majority of the population, the group claims it alone is the protector of the persecuted Sunni minority. In Yemen, the group said it was attacking the ‘Iranian operation’, while in Afghanistan it said it had deliberately targeted ‘a gathering of Shi’ites.’ In all three of these attacks, the Islamic State did not target the central government or foreign interests. It reserves its biggest attacks for Shi’a civilians.


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