Afghan mosque blast death toll rises to 33, Taliban say


At least 33 people have died, including students, after a bomb went off at a mosque and religious school in northern Afghanistan on Friday, a higher number of casualties than what was previously announced by the government.

The Taliban’s deputy culture and information minister, Zabihullah Mujahid said the bombing in the town of Imam Saheb, in Kunduz Province, also wounded another 43 people, many of them students.

Earlier the Kunduz provincial police spokesman put the death toll at the Malawi Bashir Ahmad Mosque and madrassa compound in Imam Saheb at two dead and six injured.

Mujahid later tweeted the higher casualty numbers, saying “we condemn this crime … and express our deepest condolences to the victims.”

No one immediately claimed responsibility, but Afghanistan’s Islamic State affiliate on Friday claimed a series of bombings that happened a day earlier, the worst of which was an attack on a Shiite mosque in northern Mazar-e-Sharif that killed at least 12 Shiite Muslim worshippers and wounded scores more.

Friday’s bombing is the latest in a series of deadly attacks across Afghanistan. Mujahid called the perpetrators of the Kunduz attack “seditionists and evil elements.”

The United Nations called the attack “horrific.” Deputy special representative to Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov said in a tweet that the “killings must stop now and perpetrators brought to justice.”

Since sweeping to power last August, the Taliban have been battling the upstart Islamic State affiliate known as Islamic State in Khorasan Province or IS-K which is proving to be an intractable security challenge for Afghanistan’s religiously driven government.

Last October the IS-K claimed a brutal bombing also in northern Kunduz province at a Shiite mosque that killed at least 50 people and wounded more than 100. In November the Taliban’s intelligence unit carried out sweeping attacks on suspected IS-K hideouts in eastern Nangarhar province, where the deadly affiliate is headquartered.

In a statement Friday, the IS-K said the explosive devise that devastated Mazar-e-Sharif’s Sai Doken mosque was hidden in a bag left inside among scores of worshippers. As they knelt in prayer, it exploded.

“When the mosque was filled with prayers, the explosives were detonated remotely,” the IS statement said, claiming that 100 people were injured.

The Taliban say they have arrested a former IS-K leader in northern Balkh province, of which Mazar-e-Sharif is the capital. Zabihullah Noorani, information and culture department chief in Balkh province, said Abdul Hamid Sangaryar was arrested in connection with Thursday’s mosque attack.

The IS-K had been relatively inactive in Afghanistan since last November, but in recent weeks have stepped up its attacks in Afghanistan and in neighboring Pakistan, taking aim at Shiite Muslim communities reviled by Sunni radicals.

Earlier this month two bombs exploded in Kabul’s Shiite neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi, killing at least seven students and wounding several others. (Source: AP News)