Wounded men receive treatment at a hospital following a blast during the Friday prayer in Gazargah mosque, in Herat, Afghanistan on Sept. 3. (Photo: AFP)
At least seven people were killed and 15 more wounded when an Islamic State suicide bomber attacked a minority Shiite mosque in northern Afghanistan on Friday, the Taliban government said.
The number of bomb blasts and suicide attacks has reduced dramatically since the Taliban ended their insurgency after seizing power in August 2021, ousting the US-backed government.
However, a number of armed groups -- including the regional chapter of the Islamic State (IS) organization -- remain a threat.
The blast rang out as Shiite worshippers gathered for Friday prayers at the Imam Zaman mosque in Pol-i-Khomri, the capital of Baghlan province.
"As a result of a suicide attack... seven Shiite compatriots died, and 15 others were injured", provincial information and media chief Mustafa Asadullah Hashimi said in a statement.
He added that law enforcement agents have been dispatched to the scene "to investigate how this heartbreaking incident happened".
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.
An IS fighter "reached the center of the gathering ... and then blew up his explosive belt", said a statement from the jihadists' Amaq news agency.
A source at Baghlan Provincial Hospital -- who asked to remain anonymous -- put the tally higher, saying 19 bodies and 40 wounded patients had been brought to the facility so far.
"Some of the dead and wounded were taken to other private hospitals as well," he told AFP.
Local resident Abdul Hamid said he heard a "terrible sound" as the bomb detonated.
"After the explosion, a large number of martyrs and injured people were transferred to the hospital," he said. "The situation is not good at all."
Another local said security forces were ushering people away from the area.
Fear and confusion
One resident who feared his father and brother were in the blast zone was struggling to find out their fate.
"The situation around the hospital is very bad. Everyone is trying to find their family members, but no one is allowed to go inside the hospital," he told AFP, also speaking anonymously.
The regional chapter of IS has a history of targeting Shiites they considered heretics.
The Taliban and IS share an austere Sunni ideology, however, Kabul's new rulers have pledged to protect ethnic and religious minorities.
IS is also crusading to establish a global "caliphate" -- Islamic empire -- instead of the Taliban's more modest goal of ruling an independent Afghanistan with formal ties to other countries.
Since the Taliban returned to government, IS has staged attacks on diplomatic missions in Kabul, and ministry buildings, as well as assassinated two provincial governors.
They are also blamed for the September 2022 bombing of a study hall in a minority Shiite neighborhood of the capital, killing at least 53 people -- including 46 girls and young women -- according to the United Nations.
IS seeks to "provoke sectarian conflict and destabilize the region" and since 2022 has conducted more than 190 suicide bombings, leaving some 1,300 injured or dead, a UN Security Council report said in May.
The presence of IS fighters in Afghanistan has also stoked tensions with neighboring Pakistan, which claims they are crossing the border to strike targets on its soil.