ISKP targets journalists in attack on Mazar-i-Sharif Tebyan Cultural Centre
This was the second ISKP-claimed attack targeting the Tebyan centre. In December 2017, the group claimed a suicide bombing at the Tebyan Cultural Centre in Kabul.
On March 11, 2023, various news agencies reported an explosion at the Tebyan Cultural Centre in Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh province. The Shia centre is affiliated with the Iranian Islamic Propaganda Organisation and managed by Seyed Eisa Hosseini Mazari, the head of the Afghan Voice Agency (AVA), an Afghan news agency.
AW investigators geolocated a video shared by TOLO News showing the area outside the Tebyan Cultural Centre after the explosion, as victims were being removed and transported in vehicles. The building is located in Police District 2 of Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh province.
According to an article published by the Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC), the Tebyan Centre is used as an office for the AVA news agency. At the time of the attack, the venue was hosting a celebration including members of the media, religious and cultural figures, and local officials. The celebration was attended by reporters from various Afghan news agencies, as well as freelancers.
The attack on the building, allegedly around 1100 local time, targeted a large group of reporters
who gathered inside the building to celebrate National Journalists’ Day.
According to a statement by the Balkh police spokesperson, Mohammad Asif Waziri, the explosion at the centre injured five journalists and three children. The Taliban spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior, Abdul Nafee Takkor, added that one of the centre’s guards was killed.
AW investigators verified a much higher number of victims among the videos and photos at the scene. There were at least 14 different adult male [WARNING: GRAPHIC] victims with visible [WARNING: GRAPHIC] injuries outside the [WARNING: GRAPHIC] building after the explosion. In addition to the injured victims, AW investigators also visually [WARNING: GRAPHIC] confirmed the death of an adult male inside the centre.
The AFJC reported that the explosion killed at least three people and injured 30 others, including 16 journalists. Their list of victims included reporters from the AVA news agency, Ariana TV, TOLO News, Pajhwok, Tamadon TV, Shamshad TV, and AFP.
Samim Sadat, a reporter for AVA press at the scene, claimed three victims died. He named two of them as Hossein Naderi, a second-year law student and reporter for the AVA news agency, and Akmal Nazari, a student of Balkh Journalism Faculty. On March 14, the head of the multimedia department at the AVA news agency shared the photos of Naderi and Nazari, confirming their
deaths and connections to the agency. The identity of the third victim remained undisclosed. It is not clear if it was the guard mentioned by Takkor or an additional journalist.
On March 12, Amaq news, an Islamic State-affiliated news agency, published an article entitled "30 Shiites and journalists hostile to the Islamic State were killed and wounded in a new bombing that hit a Shiite centre in Balkh province". The text stated that Islamic State fighters placed a bag containing explosives inside the building before its detonation on March 11. According to the article, the location was selected to target a large number of journalists who were allegedly “involved in the war and incitement against the Islamic State”.
Amaq News pointed out that the attack occurred on the first day of the new Balkh governor’s takeover, warning of the “ability of the Islamic State to repeat and strike despite the continuous alertness of the militia members, which again failed to secure its allies loyal to the Iranian regime”.
AW investigators analysed the damage inside the building in the aftermath of the explosion, which indicated that it was highly likely caused by an explosive device left at the scene. The blast seemed to have been centred near the right backhand side of the room. AVA News published various photos of the event immediately prior to the explosion, where it is possible to verify the presence of a choir of children participating in the celebration.
The figure below provides a comparison of the photos published by AVA news prior to the explosion at the Tebyan Cultural Centre (top) and an [WARNING: GRAPHIC] image of the immediate aftermath (bottom).
AW investigators identified where two of the three confirmed fatalities were seated. The figure below shows that Naderi (orange) and Nazari (light blue) were sitting in the same row, at the back, on the room's right-hand side.
The blast was focused on the area highlighted in green below. It is very likely that the bag with the explosive device inside left by the Islamic State fighters was placed near the area circled in red, as seen below, far from the stage.
The March 11 attack was the second incident claimed by the ISKP targeting the Tebyan centre. In December 2017, the group claimed a suicide bombing at the Tebyan Cultural Centre in Kabul, which reportedly killed 40 people and injured dozens of others.
The attack against the Mazar-i-Sharif Tabyan Cultural Centre on March 11 marked the third ISKP-claimed incident within four days, following the attack on the Director of the Water Supply Department in Herat, and the suicide bombing that killed the Governor of Balkh Province.
17 Mar 2023