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Taliban official: At least 100 dead, wounded in Afghan blast

On Friday, an explosion occurred at a mosque filled with Shia worshipers in northern Afghanistan, killing or injuring at least 100 people, a Taliban police spokesman said.

The blast that took place in Kunduz, the provincial capital of Kunduz, was not immediately blamed, but Islamic State militants have a long history of attacks on Afghanistan’s Shiite minority.

Dost Mohammad Obaida, deputy chief of police in Kunduz province, said “most of them were killed,” referring to the casualties. He said the attack could have been carried out by a suicide bomber who mingled with the worshipers inside the mosque.

“I assure our Shiite brothers that the Taliban are ready to ensure their safety,” Obaida said, adding that the investigation is ongoing.

People carry the body of a victim from a mosque after a bomb blast in Kunduz province in northern Afghanistan on Friday. (AP)

If confirmed, the death toll in the tens will be the highest since US and NATO troops left Afghanistan in late August and the Taliban took control of the country. The Taliban have been the target of a series of deadly attacks by rival IS militants, including ambushes and the bombing of a mosque in the capital city of Kabul.

The explosion in Kunduz occurred during a weekly Friday prayer service at the Gozar-e-Sayyed Abad mosque. The Friday afternoon prayer is the climax of the Muslim religious week, and mosques are usually overcrowded. Witness Ali Reza said he prayed during the explosion and said he saw many victims.

In photographs and videos from the scene, rescuers carried the body wrapped in a blanket from the mosque into an ambulance. The staircase at the entrance to the mosque was covered in blood. Debris from the explosion covered the floor, and the high ceiling of the mosque was charred in black.

Hussaindad Rezayi, a resident of the area, said he rushed into the mosque as soon as the explosion occurred. “I was busy with construction work at home, and when the prayers started, there was an explosion,” he said. “I came to look for my relatives, the mosque was full.”

The cause of the explosion was not immediately clarified. No group has yet taken responsibility for this. (AP)

Earlier Friday, Taliban chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the target was a Shiite mosque and that “large numbers” of believers were killed and injured. According to him, Taliban special forces have arrived at the scene and are investigating the incident.

The Taliban leadership is grappling with a growing threat from the local branch of the Islamic State known as the Islamic State in Khorasan. IS militants have stepped up attacks on their rivals, including two recent deadly bombings in Kabul.

IS has also declared war on Afghan minority Shiites and claimed responsibility for some of the worst attacks on the community, including attacks on their mosques in Kabul and the western province of Herat.

The United Nations Mission in Afghanistan condemned Friday’s attack, saying it was “part of a disturbing pattern of violence” directed against religious institutions.

ISIS previously reported an explosion on Sunday near the Eid Gakh mosque in Kabul, which killed at least five civilians. Another attack on a madrasah, a religious school, in Khost province was not reported on Wednesday.

The local Islamic State branch also claimed responsibility for the horrific August 26 bombing that killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 American troops near Kabul airport in the final days of the chaotic American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

After the withdrawal of the United States, IS attacks were mainly carried out in the east of Afghanistan – the regional base of the IS branch – and in Kabul.

In the northern province of Kunduz, ethnic Hazaras, mostly Shiites, make up about 6 percent of the province’s population of about 1 million. The province is also home to a large number of ethnic Uzbeks who have been recruited by IS, which is closely associated with the militant Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Friday’s attack, if announced by IS, will also cause concern among Afghanistan’s northern Central Asian neighbors and Russia, which has courted the Taliban for years as an ally against the creeping IS in the region.



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