KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan blamed a Pakistani militant group for an early morning shootout Thursday at a Shiite Muslim mosque in Kabul, while also criticizing alleged anti-Afghan elements in Pakistan’s intelligence apparatus.
The statement from Afghanistan’s intelligence service is hardly the first time authorities here have criticized Pakistan — which denies any role in fostering violence in its neighbor — but it could deepen animosity between the two countries as both grapple with the drawdown of U.S.-led foreign forces.
The shootout occurred around 4:30 a.m. in the western part of the Afghan capital as worshippers gathered for morning prayers, authorities said.
Afghanistan’s intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security, said two heavily armed Pakistani militants entered the mosque intending to kill, but that Afghan security forces managed to shoot them dead. The intelligence service alleged that the militants belonged to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni Muslim extremist group based in Pakistan that behind past violence here.
Area police official Hafizullah, who like many Afghans goes by one name, said the suspected militants had been under surveillance, allowing for the quick response by security forces.
A video distributed by the intelligence service showed the bloodied bodies of the alleged militants, who wore police uniforms. But the Afghans did not say how they had determined the identities or origins of the alleged attackers. The men were armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and other weapons, some of which also were shown on the video.
In its initial statement, the service said three bystanders were wounded, but Hafizullah disputed that account, and the intelligence service’s later statement did not mention any wounded.
It did, however, criticize Pakistan’s intelligence service, which has a history of links to militant groups.
“The enemies of the prosperity and stability of the people of Afghanistan include circles inside Pakistan’s intelligence service and the Punjabis,” the statement said. Punjab is Pakistan’s most powerful and populous province, and it is home to some of its most vicious militant groups, including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
Islamabad often has been accused of fostering violence in Afghanistan to keep it a weak neighbor and a buffer against archrival India. Pakistani officials could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday, but they have in the past denied such allegations.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s specialty is attacking Shiite Muslims. Although its attacks are usually focused in Pakistan, it claimed responsibility for a December 2011 suicide bombing outside a Shiite shrine in Kabul that killed 56 people and wounded 160. That was Afghanistan’s first major sectarian assault since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.
Separately, NATO said a service member died Thursday after an attack “by enemy forces” in eastern Afghanistan. The military alliance did not specify the nationality of the dead service member, but many U.S. troops operate in the east.
Associated Press writer Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.