Afghanistan mosque blast kills at least 18, including senior cleric

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At least 18 people, including a prominent cleric, have been killed after an explosion tore through a crowded mosque in western Afghanistan.

More than 20 others were injured in the blast in the Guzargah Mosque in the city of Herat during Friday noon prayers, Taliban officials said. There are fears that the death toll could rise.

The explosion reportedly killed Mujib-ul Rahman Ansari, a cleric who was well-known for his criticism of the country’s previous Western-backed governments.

Ansari was seen as close to the Taliban who seized control over the country last year following the withdrawal of US forces. His death was confirmed by the chief Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Friday’s blast.

Previous mosque attacks have been claimed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) extremist group, which has carried out a series of attacks against religious and ethnic minorities in Afghanistan.

In the year since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, IS have attacked several mosques in suicide attacks during Friday prayers, with a focus on targeting Shiite Muslims.

The Herat mosque usually draws followers of Sunni Islam, the dominant stream in Afghanistan that is also followed by the Taliban.