KABUL, Afghanistan – A bomb attack at a mosque in the Afghan capital Kabul during evening prayers killed at least 21 people, including a prominent cleric, and injured at least 33, eyewitnesses said Thursday and the police.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Wednesday night’s attack, the last to hit the country since the year the Taliban took power. Several children were reportedly among the injured.
The local Islamic State affiliate has stepped up attacks targeting the Taliban and civilians since the former insurgents seized power last August, when US and NATO troops were in the final stages of withdrawing from the country. Last week, IS claimed responsibility for the murder of a prominent Taliban cleric at its religious center in Kabul.
Khalid Zadran, spokesman for Kabul’s police chief, gave the figures to The Associated Press for the Sunni mosque bombing.
According to the eyewitness, a resident of the Kher Khanna district of the city where the Siddiquiya mosque was targeted, the explosion was carried out by a suicide bomber. The cleric killed was Mullah Amir Mohammad Kabuli, the eyewitness said, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also condemned the blast and promised that “the perpetrators of such crimes will soon be brought to justice and punished.”
It was feared that the number of victims could increase further. On Thursday morning, a witness to the blast who gave his name as Qyaamuddin told the AP he believed up to 25 people were killed in the blast.
“It was time for the evening prayer, and I was attending the prayer with others, when the blast happened,” Qyaamuddin said. Some Afghans have only one name.
AP reporters were able to see the blue-roofed Sunni mosque from a nearby hill. The Taliban parked police trucks and other vehicles at the mosque, while several men carried away a coffin for a victim of the attack.
A US-led invasion toppled the previous Taliban government, which had harbored al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.
Since regaining power, the former insurgents have faced a crippling economic crisis as the international community, which does not recognize the Taliban government, has frozen funding to the country.
Separately, the Taliban confirmed on Wednesday that they had captured and killed Mehdi Mujahid in the western province of Herat as he attempted to cross the border into Iran.
Mujahid was a former Taliban commander from Balkhab district in the northern province of Sar-e-Pul, and the only member of the Shia Hazara minority community among the Taliban ranks.
Mujahid had turned against the Taliban over the past year, after opposing decisions made by Taliban leaders in Kabul.