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A huge explosion rocked one of the largest mosques in Herat, western Afghanistan, on Friday, killing 18 people including its influential imam, who a few weeks ago called for the beheading of anyone who would seek to oppose the Taliban regime.
Images circulating on social media show what appear to be bloodied bodies strewn around the grounds of the Gazargh Mosque and local media said they feared many casualties.
Mujib ur Rahman Ansari, a renowned cleric and top Taliban supporter, was killed in “a brutal attack on Friday in Herat”, government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed on Twitter.
“The Islamic Emirate expresses its deep sorrow for his death and those responsible for this incident will be punished for their heinous acts,” he promised.
The attack left 18 dead and 23 injured , according to the spokesman for the governor of the province of Herat.
Mujib ur Rahman Ansari attracted many devotees and was known for his fiery speeches.
From the rostrum of an assembly of clerics in Kabul in early July, he said anyone trying to overthrow the Taliban regime should be beheaded.
“This (Taliban) flag was not raised easily, and it will not be lowered easily,” he said. All religious scholars in Afghanistan should agree (…) that anyone who commits any act against our Islamic government should be beheaded and eliminated.”
The number of attacks has decreased in Afghanistan since the Taliban took power a year ago, but they have not stopped. Most are claimed by the jihadist group Islamic State (IS).
In early August, another Taliban cleric and his brother were killed in a suicide attack in a Koranic school in Kabul, claimed by the ISIS.
ISIS, main threat
This cleric, Rahimullah Haqqani, was particularly known for his violent indictments against ISIS .
He had recently spoken publicly in favor of allowing girls' education in Afghanistan, where secondary schools have remained closed to schoolgirls since the return of the Taliban to power.
Another attack on bomb in a Kabul mosque during evening prayers on August 17 left at least 21 people dead.
A series of bomb attacks hit the country especially in late April, during the holy month of Ramadan, and late May, in which dozens of people died.
Responsibility for most of the attacks was claimed by IS, which mainly targets Afghan Shia, Sufi and Sikh religious minorities, but also the Taliban.
Taliban officials regularly claim that they have security under control in the countries, and they often deny or minimize incidents reported on social networks.
Scholars nevertheless consider that IS, another Sunni group, but with which they maintain a deep enmity and ideological differences, remains the main threat to their regime.
The supreme leader of the Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada, whose appearances are very rare, condemned the attacks on August 18, during a speech delivered before a large assembly of some 2,000 religious leaders and elders, in Kandahar (south), cradle and decision-making center of the Islamist movement.
This gathering was held on the occasion of the first anniversary of their return to power in Afghanistan , a year m arked by a strong regression of women's rights and a deep humanitarian and economic crisis.