KABUL: Afghanistan is arming hundreds of civilians nationwide to help protect mosques during one of the holiest months on the Islamic calendar after several deadly attacks on Shia religious sites.
The government’s move comes as it considers a similar proposal to arm 20,000 villagers to fight militants, highlighting the impotence of Afghanistan’s army and police in beating back insurgents and stemming the bloody violence.
The extra protection for mosques was announced on the website of Second Vice President Sarwar Danish. It also involves the deployment during the mourning month of Muharram of more troops and police around places of worship, particularly those of the Shia minority.
Shias, who number around three million in overwhelmingly Sunni Afghanistan, have regularly been targeted by Islamic State militants and accuse police and troops of failing to protect them.
“After the recent unfortunate incidents the people should not rely on security forces alone to provide them protection. The people, especially the youth, in their respective areas, need to focus on securing the mosques during the Muharram days,” Danish said after a meeting with top security officials and Shia leaders on Monday.
Muharram, beginning this week, marks the start of the Islamic new year and the mourning period for the seventh century killing of the prophet’s grandson.
The holy day of Ashura, which falls on the 10th day of Muharram, is a key date.
Acting Interior Minister Wais Barmak said the training of “hundreds of people” recruited by the ministry to protect mosques had almost finished.
They will support the additional forces to be deployed around “sacred places”.
“Measures have been taken to distribute weapons, salaries and other necessary means to the newly recruited people,” Barmak said, according to the statement.
IS in the past 14 months has claimed a series of attacks which killed scores of Shias.
There were two major assaults on Shia mosques in August alone. In Kabul a suicide bomber and gunmen stormed a building during Friday prayers, killing 28 people and wounding scores more.
Earlier in the month an IS attack on a Shia mosque in the western city of Herat left 33 worshippers dead and 66 wounded.
In July 2016 twin explosions ripped through crowds of Shia Hazaras in Kabul, killing more than 80 people and wounding hundreds more.