An explosion tore through a crowded mosque in western Afghanistan on Friday, killing at least 18 people, including a prominent cleric, Taliban officials and a local medic said. At least 21 people were hurt.
The blast went off in the Guzargah Mosque in the western city of Herat during Friday noon prayers, the highlight of the Muslim religious week when places of worship are particularly crowded.
The explosion killed Mujib-ul Rahman Ansari, a prominent cleric who was known across Afghanistan for his criticism of the country’s Western-backed governments over the past two decades. Ansari was seen as close to the Taliban, who seized control over the country a year ago as foreign forces withdrew.
His death was confirmed by the chief Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid.
Ambulances transported 18 bodies and 21 wounded people from the blast to hospitals in Herat, said Mohammad Daud Mohammadi, an official at the Herat ambulance centre,
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Friday’s blast.
Ansari had spoken strongly in defence of the Taliban at a large gathering of thousands of scholars and elders organized by the group in late June, condemning anyone who stood against their administration, which regained control of Afghanistan in August of last year.
Previous mosque attacks have been claimed by ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), an extremist group that has carried out a series of attacks against religious and ethnic minorities in Afghanistan, as well as Taliban targets.
The Herat mosque draws followers of Sunni Islam, the dominant stream in Afghanistan that is also followed by the Taliban.
In the year since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, ISIS attacked several mosques in suicide attacks during Friday prayers, with a focus on targeting Shia Muslims. ISIS followers are also Sunnis and consider Shias to be infidels.