KABUL: A prominent Afghan religious scholar was killed and another 16 people wounded in a blast during Friday prayers at a Kabul mosque, officials said.

It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion, which took place at the Al-Taqwa mosque in eastern Kabul, where Mawlawi Samiullah Raihan had been the imam, or prayer leader.

Raihan’s Facebook page showed him standing alongside members of the Afghan security forces.

He was a supporter of the Western-backed Afghan government which Taliban militants are trying to bring down. He was also a member of the National Ulema Council, Afghanistan’s top Muslim clerical body.

Friday prayers, especially during the holy month of Ramazan, are usually well attended.

“Unfortunately in the blast, Mawlawi Raihan has been martyred and 16 other worshippers were wounded,” said Nasrat Rahimi, spokesman for the interior ministry.

The explosion took place around 1:20pm.

Police spokesman Firdaws Faramarz confirmed that Raihan was killed and said investigators were probing the nature of the explosion.

Local television channel Tolo said the explosion was caused by a bomb.

Raihan was relatively well known in Kabul, as he appeared frequently on religious shows broadcast on local TV.

While Kabul has seen frequent attacks on Shia shrines and gatherings, particularly by the militant Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate.Firdaws Faramarz, a police spokesman, said explosives were apparently placed near the altar of the Al-Taqwa mosque, a place used by the mosque leader to initiate the prayers.

The neighbourhood where the bombing took place is dominated by Sunnis. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but the Taliban and IS fighters regularly stage attacks in the capital.

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2019