Armed members of the ruling Taliban stand guard on Thursday near a mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan, that was targeted by a suicide attack. Authorities said that nearly two dozen people were killed in the explosion. Photo by EPA-EFE
Aug. 18 (UPI) -- Authorities said Thursday that a suicide bombing that targeted a mosque in Afghanistan's capital has killed almost two dozen people, including a prominent Muslim cleric, and the death toll may yet rise again.
The attack occurred during evening prayers at the Kabul mosque on Wednesday. Police initially reported only a few dead, but the figure rose substantially early on Thursday.
Authorities say that at least 21 people died in the blast and dozens were wounded.
The attack -- which targeted the Siddiquiya Mosque in Kabul's Kher Khanna neighborhood -- killed Amir Mohammad Kabuli, one of the country's pre-eminent clerics.
Emergency officials said that several children were among the survivors. But authorities said the death toll is likely to rise again as they go through the debris from the blast.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but suspicion pointed to ISIS-K, a militant offshoot of the Islamic State operating in Afghanistan. The group has ramped up attacks across Afghanistan since U.S. forces withdrew from the country a year ago.
The extremist group has been a problem for the Taliban leadership since it returned to power last August during the U.S. withdrawal, as bombings and other attacks continue to keep the fledgling government off balance.
Last week, the group claimed responsibility for killing a Taliban religious leader at his church in Kabul. It was also responsible for two coordinated attacks in the capital last summer that killed 13 U.S. Marines during the American military evacuation.
Former President Hamid Karzai, who led Afghanistan from 2002 to 2014, called the mosque bombing "an inhuman act by the enemies of the people of Afghanistan," according to the Afghanistan Times.
Chief Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid also condemned the attack and said the perpetrators "will soon be brought to justice and will be punished," according to VOA News.
Many prominent voices in the country have questioned whether the Taliban government of former rebels is doing enough to curtail the bloody attacks that have plagued the country for the past year.
"In the month of August alone, we managed six mass casualties in our hospital, with a total of almost 80 patients," Stefano Sozza, Afghanistan's national emergency coordinator, said according to CNN.
"Throughout the year, we have continued to receive gunshot injuries, shrapnel injuries, stabbing injuries, and victims of mines and IED explosions on a daily basis."
On Monday, the Taliban held a celebration in front of the former U.S. Embassy in Kabul to mark the one-year anniversary of its return to power in 2021.