0944 GMT January 22, 2021
Raz Mohammad Mandozai, the police chief of Paktia Province, said two suicide bombers detonated their explosives inside the mosque in the provincial capital of Gardez, about 50 miles south of Kabul.
Mandozai said the suicide bombers, who he said were disguised in masks, first killed two security guards at the entrance of the mosque before firing on worshippers and detonating their explosives.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but the Daesh affiliate in Afghanistan has targeted Shia worshippers in the past. The group has also warned Shias that their houses of worship would be targeted.
The stronghold of the Daesh terror group is in neighboring Nangarhar Province, which has been the scene of multiple Daesh attacks in recent months that have killed dozens.
President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack, which he said was aimed at trying to create sectarian division in Afghanistan.
Syed Sufi Gardezi, the most senior Shia cleric in Gardez, put the death toll at 30. He described a scene of panic and distress outside the mosque as news of the explosion spread and relatives gathered.
Gardezi said the wounded were screaming for help and body parts of the dead were scattered throughout the single story mosque. The dead were all men and boys, he said.
He blamed the Daesh affiliate. He said that in eastern Paktia province, where Gardez is located, the Taliban have a strong presence and have never attacked Shias in the past and have never threatened them.
Dr. Mohammad Wali Roshan, a physician at a local hospital, said some of the relatives, were furious at the lack of security.
“They were shouting that there was no security and screaming for their loved ones,” he said.
The attack in Gardez comes as Afghan forces have intensified ground and air offensives against Daesh and as the Taliban has stepped up its war with the group.
In April, Daesh terrorists claimed responsibility for an attack on a voter registration office in a heavily Shia-populated area in the Afghan capital, killing 57 people and wounding over 100 others.
According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, 161 people were killed and 257 others were wounded in 2017 in targeted sectarian attacks against Shia places of worship or worshippers.
Reuters, AFP and AP contributed to this story.