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Afghanistan observes national day of mourning for recent bombing victims -

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MARK COLVIN: Afghanistan has observed a national day of mourning after a twin suicide bombing at a protest march in the capital Kabul killed 80 people and wounded 230.

The so-called Islamic State quickly claimed responsibility for the attack which targeted Hazara protestors, a Shiite minority in Afghanistan.

It was the worst attack on civilians in Kabul since 2001.

Franz Marty is a journalist based in the capital.

He's been reporting on the presence of the so-called Islamic State in Afghanistan since February last year.

I started by asking him how ISIS would find a foothold in territory traditionally controlled by the Taliban.

FRANZ J MARTY: Due to the large Taliban presence, the self declared Islamic State has troubled to establish itself, failed in different provinces, and more or less only succeeded in the eastern province on Nangarhar, where they have managed to set up some strong-holds.

But even there they have been under pressure from the Taliban and then afterwards also the government. There are other presence reported also from the east of the country. There are some reports from the north now, but they are unverified and seem shaky.

They have problem to set themselves up exactly because the Taliban are so well established.

MARK COLVIN: Why would Nangarhar be particularly fertile ground for them?

FRANZ J MARTY: Well if you ask Afghans, also Nangarhar, I have visited the place several times, most of them tell you it's because the long and ungoverned border with Pakistan and that this is the problem, that they could set themselves up there.

On the other hand, there are other places in Afghanistan with long, ungoverned borders with Pakistan, and there they didn't manage to. One local journalist I spoke to who is himself from Kunar, which neighbours Nangarhar but knows the region well, suggested that in Nangarhar probably more than in other places the social structure has eroded, especially the system of clans and tribes.

There hasn't been like a tribal structure that is more aligned to like Taliban, also the Afghan ideology than something that came from outside. Another resident of Nangarhar suggested that due to the presence of international jihadis since the ‘80s, in Nangarhar, this might also have built the ground for the more internationalist ideology.

MARK COLVIN: If you were able to go to Nangarhar and ask those questions, that would indicate that you're not too worried about them having a very large presence, because in places where they do have a very large presence, they tend to kidnap journalists and cut their heads off.

FRANZ J MARTY: Of course Nangarhar has problems. I spoke with people that lived there, fled from there, or either were travelling closer to the main roads so that I could speak to them. So I ventured only a little off the main road, mostly due to security concerns.

MARK COLVIN: Should we be focusing on the apparent presence of some IS in Afghanistan or should we be focusing on the Taliban itself? Is the Taliban resurgent?

FRANZ J MARTY: Compared to the Taliban, the self declared Islamic State is way weaker and by far a smaller threat. I would say that you should take it seriously but that you should also see it in the right context.

Yes, there is an Islamic State presence here, but it is quite unclear in how far they are really linked to other Islamic State groups in other parts of the world. It is also very unclear what exactly their aims are.

It is unclear if people that align themself with the Islamic State inside Afghanistan are coordinated among themselves, or could also be possible that they claimed for several different reasons allegiance to the Islamic State, but are like not that well coordinated among themselves.

There’s different splinter groups that just pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. So you should see it in this context and concentrate more on the Taliban, because I mean the Taliban are country-wide, also now more so in the north which is a new development, so they are for sure the much, much, much bigger threat.

MARK COLVIN: And how big a threat is that? I mean, are they getting back to near the strength they had before 2001? Or is that an exaggeration?

FRANZ J MARTY: You shouldn't really compare the Taliban before 2001 and now. Right now they can disrupt but contrary to pre-2001, they are in no position to control like this amount of territory like they have been in those days, so it is really hard to compare this.

MARK COLVIN: Journalist Franz J Marty speaking to me from Afghanistan.