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Kabul — A bomb blast at a mosque in northern Kabul killed 21 people, including children and a prominent cleric, Taliban officials and residents said Thursday.
The attack happened on Wednesday evening during evening prayers. No group has claimed responsibility, but the Islamic State branch in Afghanistan has claimed similar attacks in recent months.
Thirty-three others were injured, Kabul police spokesman Khalid Zadran told the Washington Post. Eyewitnesses at the mosque and at a nearby cemetery put the death toll higher. An NGO run hospital reported receiving 27 casualties, including five children, as of Wednesday night.
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The bombing comes as a blow to the Taliban leadership, who earlier this week boasted about the increased security the group has brought to Kabul and the rest of the country. A year has passed since Taliban militants took control of the capital on Monday, and while security has improved for most Afghans, Islamic State remains active and deadly.
Previous attacks alleged by the group have targeted Taliban members, places of worship and Afghan minority groups. Last week, a prominent Taliban cleric was killed by a suicide bomber at a seminary in Kabul.
Taliban fighters cordoned off the site of the explosion in Kabul’s Khair Khana district on Thursday morning.
“The killers and perpetrators of the blast will be arrested and punished soon,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said in a tweet condemnation of the bombing.
For years, the Taliban have maintained security in parts of Afghanistan they control with a mixture of effective intelligence networks, intimidation and harsh, often public, punishments. However, it is unclear whether the group’s approach will remain successful nationwide, particularly in cities.
In northern Kabul, residents said the slain cleric, Amir Mohammad Kabuli, was known but not closely associated with any group.
Kabuli “was a great Islamic preacher and always spoke the truth,” said a resident of the neighborhood where the attack took place. “I’m not sure who targeted Mawlawi or why,” he said, using the honorary title of minister.
The man spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.
The Taliban are sending hundreds of fighters into eastern Afghanistan to wage war against the Islamic State
The Islamic State offshoot in Afghanistan is the only group to have sustained threats to Taliban security control, though its fighters no longer control the territory as they did before a massive US-led operation in 2019 that pushed the group out of the eastern province Nangahar.
The Taliban authorities have repeatedly promised to crush the group using harsh tactics in areas where it is most active. However, some reports suggest that the Taliban’s approach may have fueled Islamic State recruitment only since the departure of US forces.
Khan reported from Peshawar, Pakistan.