A blast tore through a minority Shiite mosque in northern Afghanistan on Friday, locals said, with one reporting a “large number” of dead and wounded.
The nature of the blast in Pol-i-Khomri, the capital of Baghlan province, was not immediately clear, but it was confirmed by the Taliban government.
“I condemn it strongly, but currently I don’t have all the information,” deputy government spokesman Bilal Karimi told AFP.
Local residents said the explosion rang out as Shiite worshippers gathered for Friday prayers at the city’s Imam Zaman mosque.
“There was a terrible sound,” Abdul Hamid told AFP. “After the explosion, a large number of martyrs and injured people were transferred to the hospital. The situation is not good at all.”
“When I was at home, I heard a huge explosion,” said another local resident Saeed Daud. “Now the sirens of ambulances are being heard, and the injured are being taken to the hospital.”
He said local authorities were ushering people away from the area.
According to Mustafa Hashemi, the director of the #Baghlan Information and Culture department, there have been reports of casualties, both fatalities and injuries, resulting from an explosion that… pic.twitter.com/hTgvON4BdT
— South Asia Times (@SATimes_TV) October 13, 2023
Security has improved dramatically since the Taliban stormed back to power in August 2021, ousting the US-backed government.
But the regional chapter of the Islamic State (IS) group remains a threat and has in the past targeted Shiites they consider heretics.
The Taliban and IS share an austere Sunni ideology. However, Kabul’s new rulers have pledged to protect ethnic and religious minorities.
IS is also crusading to establish a global “caliphate” — Islamic empire — instead of the Taliban’s more modest goal of ruling an independent Afghanistan with formal ties to other countries.
Since the Taliban returned to government, IS has staged attacks on diplomatic missions in Kabul, and ministry buildings, as well as assassinated two provincial governors.
They are also blamed for the September 2022 bombing of a study hall in a minority Shiite neighborhood of the capital, killing at least 53 people — including 46 girls and young women — according to the United Nations.
IS seeks to “provoke sectarian conflict and destabilize the region,” and since 2022, has conducted more than 190 suicide bombings, leaving some 1,300 injured or dead, a UN Security Council report said in May.
The presence of IS fighters in Afghanistan has also stoked tensions with neighboring Pakistan, which claims they are crossing the border to strike targets on its soil.