A powerful blast killed more than 50 worshipers after Friday prayers at a Kabul mosque, its leader said, the latest in a series of attacks on civilian targets in Afghanistan during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The blast hit the Khalifa Sahib mosque west of the capital in the early afternoon, said Besmullah Habib, deputy spokesman for the Interior Ministry, who said the confirmed official toll was 10 dead.
Afghan men flee near the site of the Khalifa Sahib mosque explosions in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 29. PHOTO: Reuters/Ali Khara.
The attack came as worshipers at the Sunni mosque gathered after Friday prayers for a congregation known as Zikr – an act of religious commemoration practiced by some Muslims but considered heretical by some hardline Sunni groups.
Sayed Fazil Agha, the head of the mosque, said someone they believed to be a suicide bomber joined them at the ceremony and detonated explosives.
“Black smoke rose and spread everywhere, corpses were everywhere,” he told Reuters, adding that his nephews were among the dead. “I myself survived, but I lost my loved ones.”
Resident Mohammad Sabir said he saw injured people being loaded into ambulances.
“The explosion was very loud, I thought my eardrums were cracked,” he said.
A health source said hospitals have so far received 66 dead bodies and 78 injured.
The United States and the United Nations mission in Afghanistan condemned the attack, with the latter saying it was part of an uptick in violence in recent weeks targeting minorities and adding that at least two personnel from the the UN and their families were in the mosque at the time of the attack.
“No words are strong enough to condemn this despicable act,” said Mette Knudsen, deputy special representative of the UN secretary general for Afghanistan.
Kabul City Center Emergency Hospital said it was treating 21 patients and two had died on arrival. A worker at another hospital treating attack patients said he had received 49 patients and about five bodies. Ten of the patients were in critical condition, the source added, and nearly 20 had been admitted to the burns unit.
A spokesman for the ruling Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, issued a statement condemning the blast and saying the perpetrators would be found and punished.
It was not immediately clear who was responsible.
Dozens of Afghan civilians have been killed in recent weeks in explosions, some of which have been claimed by Islamic State.
The emergency hospital said it treated more than 100 patients injured in attacks in Kabul in April alone. The latest attack took place on the last Friday of Ramadan, when most Muslims fast, and ahead of the religious holiday of Eid next week.
The Taliban say they have secured the country since seizing power in August and largely eliminated the local offshoot of the Islamic State, but international officials and analysts say the risk of a resurgence in militancy remains.
Many attacks have targeted the Shia minority, but Sunni mosques have also been attacked.
Bombs exploded aboard two vans carrying Shia Muslims in the northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif on Thursday, killing at least nine people. Last Friday, an explosion ripped through a Sunni mosque during Friday prayers in the town of Kunduz, killing 33 people.