At least 27 dead in Afghanistan mosque suicide blast
A suicide bomber blew himself up inside a mosque in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, killing at least 27 people including the police chief of the capital Kabul, witnesses and officials told AFP.
The blast occurred as prayers were offered for an Islamic cleric who was shot dead by suspected Taliban militants at the weekend, witnesses and an intelligence official said on Wednesday.
An AFP correspondent at the scene said he saw "at least 27 dead bodies" at the Maulvi Abdul Rab mosque in central Kandahar, a city known as the birthplace of the ousted Taliban regime.
"One man entered the mosque and blew himself up. The explosion killed more than 20 people and lot of people are injured. General Akram, police chief in Kabul, was also killed," the correspondent said.
"There were some 50 to 60 people inside the mosque when the explosion occurred. This was a very big explosion and there is blood everywhere in the mosque and outside it," he said.
"Human limbs are scattered all over the mosque compound."
An intelligence official also confirmed that General Akram had died.
Interior ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said "at least two dozen people" had died in the blast and a number of high ranking provincial and government officials were in the mosque at the time.
"The blast took place around 9:00 am (0430 GMT) this morning during prayers for the religious leader. The exact number of casualties is not known yet but dozens have been killed and dozens have been injured," he told AFP.
A police officer said the fate of the other officials caught up in the blast was unknown.
Witnesses told the private Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press news agency that a man in a military uniform entered the mosque and blew himself up.
Afghanistan remains wracked by violence three and a half years after the fall of the ousted Islamic Taliban regime. More than 250 people, mostly militants, have died in recent months.
The hardliners claimed responsibility for the killing on Sunday of Maulvi Abdullah Fayyaz, chief of Kandahar's Islamic Council and a close supporter of US-backed President Hamid Karzai.
Two armed men on a motorcycle gunned down the cleric in restive Kandahar province, regarded as a Taliban hotbed.
Fayyaz organized a meeting of other Afghan Islamic clerics in Kandahar last week in which the council of ulemas, or scholars, revoked the title of Amirul Mominine, the leader of all believers, given to fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
More than 18,000 coalition troops, including about 16,000 US forces, are in Afghanistan hunting Taliban remnants who, three years after the toppling of the extremist Islamic regime, are still waging a guerrilla-style insurgency.
On Monday up to 16 militants and four police officers were killed in a series of attacks in southern Afghanistan.