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Senior cleric close to Afghanistan's Taliban rulers killed in suicide bombing at Herat mosque

Many Afghans living in fear under Taliban
Many Afghans living in fear, one year after U.S. troops withdrew from America's longest war 09:12

Herat, Afghanistan — An explosion tore through a crowded mosque in western Afghanistan on Friday, killing a prominent cleric close to the country's Taliban regime, officials said. At least 18 people were killed and 23 more wounded in the blast, according to a statement sent to CBS News' Ahmad Mukhtar and other Afghan journalists by Mawlawi Hamidullah Mutawakil, a spokesman for the Herat governor.

The blast went off in the Guzargah Mosque in the western city of Herat during Friday noon prayers, the highlight of the Muslim religious week when places of worship are particularly crowded.

Taliban fighters block a road after a blast during the Friday noon prayer at the Gazargah mosque, in the western city of Herat, Afghanistan, September 2, 2022. STR/AFP/Getty

The explosion killed Mujib-ul Rahman Ansari, a prominent cleric and the mosque's imam who was known across Afghanistan for his criticism of Afghanistan's Western-backed governments over the past two decades. Ansari was seen as close to the Taliban, which seized control over the country a year ago as U.S. and other foreign forces withdrew.

A spokesman for the Herat police told CBS News' Sami Yousafzai that Ansari was "martyred" by "impure enemies of the religion of Islam and humanity" as he approached the mosque and a suicide bomber posing as a supporter blew himself up while kissing the cleric's hand.

Ansari has long been an ardent supporter of the Taliban, and Yousafzai says that after Taliban's takeover in August last year, he was made a special aid to the Islamic extremist regime's Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Mujib-ul Rahman Ansari, a prominent Muslim cleric and advisor to Afghanistan's Taliban leaders, is seen in a file photo from his Facebook page. Ansari was killed in a suicide bombing at a mosque in the western Afghan city of Herat on September 2, 2022. Facebook

The Taliban regime's primary spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, also confirmed Ansari's death on Friday.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Friday's blast, but previous mosque attacks have been claimed by the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan, which has carried out a series of attacks against religious and ethnic minorities in Afghanistan, as well as Taliban targets.

A local teacher in Herat, Ajmal Hameed, told CBS News' Yousafzai in a telephone interview that Ansari may have become a victim of his own extremist ideology.

 "Mullah Ansari in a speech last July at a large Taliban meeting encouraged Taliban [followers] to chop off the heads of those disobeying the Taliban regime," said the teacher. "Today he is a victim himself of his own extremist thoughts."
The Herat mosque draws followers of Sunni Islam, the dominant stream in Afghanistan that is also followed by the Taliban.
In the year since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, ISIS militants have attacked several mosques in suicide attacks during Friday prayers, but they have largely targeted Shiite Muslims. ISIS followers are also Sunnis and consider Shiites to be infidels.

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