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Suspected Taliban bomb attack at mosque kills 19 in eastern Afghanistan

Afghan policemen inspect a mosque after a blast in Khost Province, Afghanistan, May 6, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

Nineteen people have been killed and dozens more wounded in a bomb explosion, suspected to be carried out by Taliban militants, at a mosque in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Khost, police and officials say, capping a bloody week in the crisis-hit country.

According to Basir Bina, spokesman for the provincial police, the deadly blast occurred on Sunday as people had gathered following afternoon prayers in the mosque, which was also being used as a voter registration center for parliamentary elections slated to be held in October.

The official added that the explosion seemed to be the result of explosives planted in the mosque rather than by terrorists detonating explosive belts.

Bina’s speculation was confirmed by provincial police chief Abdul Hanan as he believed that the bomb had been placed in a tent being used to register voters in the yard of the mosque. “A crowd of people, who had come out of the mosque, had gathered to register” when the blast took place, Hanan added.

Provincial deputy director of public health Gul Mohammad Mangal said at least 33 people sustained injuries in the attack.

No group or individual has claimed responsibility for the attack, but it has the hallmark of Taliban, who have been leading a campaign of death and destruction across the crisis-hit country for the past 17 years.

It was the latest attack on election preparations, seen as a key test of the government's credibility, and comes nearly a week after 25 people, including nine journalists, lost their lives in a pair of back-to-back bomb blasts that hit near government buildings in the capital Kabul.

Last month, some 60 people lost their lives in a voter center in Kabul in a bomb attack claimed by the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group. Taliban have also warned people not to participate in the elections.

Sunday’s deadly explosion came as fierce fighting between government troops and Taliban has spread across the war-torn country, with government officials saying that a district in the northern province of Badakhshan that was overrun by Taliban last week had been liberated.

In a separate development, seven people were killed in an explosion when their vehicle ran over a roadside bomb in the northern province of Faryab early on Sunday morning, said Mohammad Karim Yuresh, the provincial police spokesman.

Additionally on Sunday, Taliban militants partially destroyed a main bridge in Mahajir Bazar of Nahr-e-Saraj district in the southern province of Helmand. Afghanistan’s Khaama news service, citing an unnamed provincial official, said that the terror outfit had intended to completely destroy the bridge but only two of the seven explosive devices attached to the structure went off, adding that the remaining five explosives were later defused by the bomb disposal unit.

The escalation in attacks by Taliban showed the group was barely interested in an offer of peace talks by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Taliban made no mention of the offer that came in February, showing that the group may even intensify its devastating campaign across Afghanistan.

The US-backed Afghan government is under pressure on multiple fronts this year as it prepares to hold long-delayed legislative elections even as its security forces struggle to get the upper hand on the battlefield and prevent civilian casualties.

Earlier this year, the UN figures showed that more than 10,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the Afghan conflict last year. While the main cause of civilian deaths was said to be bombings by militants, the report said US airstrikes as well as government forces had also caused casualties.

US-led forces invaded Afghanistan and toppled a ruling Taliban regime some 17 years ago. That ongoing war has failed to bring stability to the country despite the presence of thousands of foreign forces. A recent survey found that Taliban were active in two-thirds of the country and were fully controlling four percent of it.

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