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Scores killed and wounded by Afghan mosque blast during Friday prayers

A blast has hit a mosque packed with Shiite Muslim worshippers in northern Afghanistan, killing or wounding at least 100 people, a Taliban police official said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, which took place in Kunduz, the capital of Kunduz province, but militants from the so-called Islamic State group have a long history of attacking Afghanistan’s Shiite minority.

Dost Mohammad Obaida, the deputy police chief for Kunduz province, said the “majority of them have been killed”, in reference to the victims.

People inspect the inside of the mosque (Abdullah Sahil/AP)

He said the attack may have been carried out by a suicide bomber who had mingled among worshippers inside the mosque.

“I assure our Shiite brothers that the Taliban are prepared to ensure their safety,” Mr Obaida said, adding that an investigation was under way.

If confirmed, a death toll of dozens would be the highest since US and Nato forces left Afghanistan at the end of August and the Taliban took control of the country.

The Taliban have been targeted in a series of attacks by rival IS militants, including shooting ambushes and an explosion at a mosque in the capital of Kabul.

The Kunduz explosion went off during the weekly Friday prayer service at the Gozar-e-Sayed Abad Mosque.

Photos and video from the scene showed rescuers carrying a body wrapped in a blanket from the mosque to an ambulance.

The stairs at the entrance of the mosque were covered in blood, while debris from the blast covered the floor and the mosque’s lofty ceiling was charred black.

The scene outside the mosque (Abdullah Sahil/AP)

A local resident, Hussaindad Rezayee, said he rushed to the mosque as soon as the explosion went off.

“I was busy at home doing construction work, and when the prayers started, the explosion happened,” he said. “I came to look for my relatives, the mosque was full.”

Chief Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the Shiite mosque was the target and a “large number” of worshippers were killed and wounded.

He said Taliban special forces had arrived at the scene and were investigating.

The Taliban leadership has been grappling with a growing threat from the local IS affiliate, known as the Islamic State in Khorasan.

IS militants have ramped up attacks to target their rivals, including two recent deadly bombings in Kabul.

IS has also declared war on Afghanistan’s minority Shiites and has claimed some of the worst attacks targeting the community, including on 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” targeting religious institutions.

IS had previously claimed a bombing last Sunday outside Kabul’s Eid Gah Mosque that killed at least five civilians.

The local IS affiliate also claimed the horrific August 26 bombing that killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 US military personnel outside Kabul airport in the final days of the chaotic American pullout from Afghanistan.

Since the US pullout, IS attacks have been mostly in eastern Afghanistan — the regional base for the IS affiliate — and in Kabul.

In northern Kunduz province, ethnic Hazaras, who are mostly Shiites, make up about 6% of the population of nearly a million people.

The province also has a large ethnic Uzbek population that has been targeted for recruitment by IS, which is closely aligned with the militant Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Source:

www.breakingnews.ie

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