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Afghans from minority groups face new threats — this time from ISIS

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Many Afghans say their cities and villages feel safer under the Taliban. Now in power, the assaults that the Taliban once waged are no more. But a wave of targeted attacks by ISIS is undermining that security, especially among minority groups. NPR's Arezou Rezvani reports from Kabul.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION NOISES)

AREZOU REZVANI, BYLINE: It's just before the start of Friday prayers, and a group of men are running wheelbarrows of wet cement into a mosque here in western Kabul. They're repairing a room that was blown out a couple of months ago in a suicide attack. Worshippers were inside reciting Sufi prayers when the bomb exploded. It killed more than 50 people.

HASIBULLAH NEGAZAD-FAWNI: (Through interpreter) I'm unable to explain the image to you. I lost many relatives of mine in the attack - my nephews, my cousin, many of my other relatives.

REZVANI: That's 29-year-old Hasibullah Negazad-Fawni. He's long been a committed follower of this Sufi mosque. Now, with a rifle slung around his shoulder, he helps guard it. When the Taliban first returned to power last year, he says his Sufi community was hopeful. Taliban leaders often boasted of the high security in territories they controlled during the war.

NEGAZAD-FAWNI: (Through interpreter) So we were thinking it's an Islamic regime, and it will be fine for everyone. But we were not aware that the security threat will get bigger than before.

REZVANI: The Taliban, a hard-line Sunni group, was known in the past for attacks on minority Muslims. But when the Taliban took over last year, they promised to end the insecurity that existed under the Western-backed government. Now it seems some Muslims are still less safe than others - not so much because of the Taliban but because of the Islamic State.

NEGAZAD-FAWNI: (Through interpreter) We are not safe right now. We have taken our security steps, like this gate. But still, the threats exist.

REZVANI: Do you feel like you're getting good protection from this new government?

He pauses a moment.

NEGAZAD-FAWNI: (Non-English language spoken).

REZVANI: "I can't tell you anything," he says.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Vocalizing).

REZVANI: Before the attack, about a thousand people used to come to this Sufi mosque for Friday prayer. Now only 300 worshippers attend. Leaders here discourage people from coming, fearing a large crowd could draw another ISIS attack.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Non-English language spoken).

REZVANI: Not far from the mosque, students at a school in a Shia neighborhood are settling into their seats.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Non-English language spoken).

REZVANI: A little girl in a white hijab and purple sneakers runs up to practice some English.

How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I'm fine. Thank you. And you?

REZVANI: Very good. Thank you. (Non-English language spoken).

Ghulam Husein is the principal of this school, giving us a tour. He walks us to his office, where a large poster hangs above his door.

GHULAM HUSEIN: (Through interpreter) These photos are from my students, grade 12 - that they were martyred in the explosion.

REZVANI: A few months ago as kids arrived on campus, a bomb went off. When teachers and passersby rushed in to help, a second bomb detonated. Seven students were killed, and now a quarter of his 1,100 students no longer come to school.

HUSEIN: (Through interpreter) Still, they are terrified. They are full of fear. Still, our psychological teams are working with them.

REZVANI: These days, the school has security cameras set up, paid for by students' families. Husein says the Taliban have posted the guards we see around campus.

HUSEIN: (Through interpreter) Right now 10, 15 of them are here. They are doing patrol all around the walls. But with all these security setups, we are thinking that when we leave home, we are entering battlefield. And we are right now in a battle.

ASFANDYAR MIR: These communities keep getting hit repeatedly. And they remain in the crosshairs.

REZVANI: That's Asfandyar Mir, a counterterrorism expert in Washington with the U.S. Institute of Peace. He says the attacks by ISIS chip away at the Taliban's main promise.

MIR: The Taliban claim that they have brought security to Afghanistan and that they have the intent and the capability to protect everyone. And ISIS's continued attacks really undercut that Taliban narrative.

REZVANI: Mir says ISIS may also suspect there are Taliban who are bothered that the group has become too moderate and may be sending them a message.

MIR: That, look - the Taliban have compromised by reconciling with religious minorities, whereas we are not doing that. So It's an attempt to poach hard-liners from the Taliban.

REZVANI: And that's why some worry the Taliban's protection of minorities will fade.

IQBAL AKHTAR: I definitely feel that it's a temporary political maneuver on their part to consolidate power in the country and to show that they have authority.

REZVANI: That's Iqbal Akhtar, Florida International University professor of religious studies and international relations.

AKHTAR: Once that is established, it's probably unlikely that they're going to continue doing that.

REZVANI: And that leaves minorities, like the Shias, like the Sufis, waiting, waiting to see if the security the Taliban promise the country will really include them, too.

Arezou Rezvani, NPR News, Kabul, Afghanistan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Arezou Rezvani is a senior editor for NPR's Morning Edition and founding editor of Up First, NPR's daily news podcast.