KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – A bomb ripped through a mosque in northern Kabul during Friday prayers, killing 12 worshipers and injuring 15, Afghan police said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, the latest in a wave of violence as US and NATO troops began their final withdrawal from the country after 20 years of war.
According to Afghan police spokesman Ferdaws Faramarz, the bomb exploded as prayers began. Mosque imam Mofti Noman was among the dead, the spokesperson said and added that the initial police investigation suggests the imam may have been the target.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied any insurgent connection to the mosque attack, condemning it and accusing Afghan intelligence services of being behind the explosion.
The Taliban and the government routinely blame each other for attacks. The attackers are rarely identified and the public is rarely informed of the results of the investigations into the numerous attacks in the capital.
A worshiper, Muhibullah Sahebzada, said he had just entered the building when the explosion went off. Stunned, he heard the sound of screams, including those of children, as smoke filled the mosque.
Sahebzada said he saw several bodies on the ground and that at least one child was among the injured. It appears that the explosive device was hidden inside the pulpit at the front of the mosque, he added.
“I was afraid of a second explosion, so I immediately came to my house,” he said.
An image circulating on social media shows three bodies lying on the floor of the mosque.
The explosion comes on the second day of a three-day ceasefire announced by the Taliban for the Muslim holiday this week of Eid al-Fitr, which follows the fasting month of Ramadan. The Afghan government has also said it will respect a truce during the holidays.
So far, many of the attacks in Kabul have been claimed by the local affiliate of the Islamic State group, although the Taliban and the government are regularly responsible for the trade.
Last week, a powerful car bomb in Kabul killed more than 90 people, many of them female students leaving a girls’ school. The Taliban have denied any involvement and condemned the attack.
Earlier this week, US troops left the South Kandahar Air Base, where some NATO forces are still located. At the height of the war, more than 30,000 American soldiers were stationed in Kandahar, the heart of the Taliban. The Kandahar base was the second largest US base in Afghanistan, after Bagram north of Kabul.