Huge explosion hits Kabul mosque, many casualties feared

KABUL (REUTERS, AFP) – A huge explosion struck a mosque in Kabul during evening prayers on Wednesday (Aug 17), witnesses and police said, with many feared dead or injured.

Police said there were multiple casualties but did not say how many.

One Taliban intelligence official told Reuters that as many as 35 people may have been wounded or killed, and the toll could rise further. Al Jazeera quoted an unidentified official as giving a death toll of 20.

Italian non-governmental organisation, Emergency, which operates a hospital in Kabul, said it had received 27 victims of the blast, including three fatalities.

“Most of the patients we received following the explosion inside a mosque are suffering from shell and burn injuries,” it said.

Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed that there were fatalities and injuries from the blast, but did not specify how many.

“The murderers of civilians and perpetrators…will soon be punished for their crimes,” he said on Twitter.

Witnesses told Reuters the powerful explosion was heard in a northern Kabul neighbourhood, shattering windows in nearby buildings. Ambulances rushed to the spot.

“A blast happened inside a mosque…the blast has casualties, but the numbers are not clear yet,” Kabul police spokesman Khalid Zadran told Reuters.

The Taliban intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the explosion occurred in a mosque among worshippers in the Khair Khana neighbourhood northwest of Kabul.

The Imam of the mosque was among those killed and the toll could still rise, the source added.

Intelligence teams are at the blast site and investigations are ongoing.

Other officials in the Taliban government did not reply to multiple requests to confirm the number of casualties.

Wednesday’s blast comes nearly a week after a suicide attack killed a top Taliban cleric at his madrassa in Kabul.

On Aug 11, a suicide bomber blew himself up inside the madrassa of cleric Rahimullah Haqqani, who was killed along with his brother.

The attack was claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group.

Since the Taliban seized power a year ago, there has been significant fall in violence across the country.

However, the ISIS has regularly carried out attacks, primarily targeting minority communities such as Shiites, Sufis and Sikhs.

The Taliban say they have defeated the ISIS, but experts say the group is a key security challenge for the hardline Islamists.