KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — At least five civilians were killed in a bomb blast at the entrance to a Kabul mosque Sunday, a Taliban official said, describing the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since U.S. forces left at the end of August.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but suspicion fell on Islamic State extremists who have stepped up attacks on the Taliban in recent weeks, particularly in the IS stronghold in eastern Afghanistan.
An apparent roadside bomb went off at the gate of the sprawling Eidgah Mosque in Kabul at a time when a memorial service was being held for the mother of Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. Qari Saeed Khosti confirmed the deaths.
Three suspects have been arrested, Bilal Karimi, Taliban official spokesman said. Taliban fighters were not harmed in the attack, he said. He added the investigation was ongoing.
Mohammad Israil, a Kabul resident, said he heard “a loud sound” and saw people running away.
An Italian-funded emergency hospital in Kabul tweeted it had received four people wounded in the blast.
The area around the mosque was cordoned off by the Taliban, who maintained a heavy security presence. Later in the afternoon the site was cleaned. The only signs of the blast was slight damage to the ornamental arch by the entrance gate.
Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in mid-August, attacks by Islamic State group militants against them have increased. The rise has raised the possibility of a wider conflict between the two extremist groups.
IS maintains a strong presence in the eastern province of Nangarhar and considers the Taliban an enemy. IS has claimed several attacks against the Taliban, including several killings in the provincial capital of Jalalabad.
Sunday’s attack is the first to target the capital since late August when an IS suicide bomber targeted American evacuation efforts outside Kabul’s international airport. The blast killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members and was of the deadliest attacks in the country in years.
It was claimed by IS affiliated, the Islamic State in Khorasan Province.
Attacks in Kabul have so far been rare, but in recent weeks IS has shown signs it is expanding its footprint beyond the east and closer toward the capital.
On Friday, Taliban fighters raided an IS hideout just north of Kabul in Parwan province. The raid came after an IS roadside bomb wounded four Taliban fighters in the area.