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Deadly Bombing Sparks Riots

A powerful bomb exploded inside an ancient mosque in western Afghanistan on Friday, killing at least eight people including an exiled Iranian cleric and injuring scores more, Taliban officials said.

Afghanistan's Taliban rulers blamed Iran for the blast.

Maulvi Mohammed Mussa, a Sunni Muslim cleric, was killed in the explosion in Herat city, along with another Iranian believed to be the bomber, Herat Provincial Governor Khairullah Khaikhwa said in a telephone interview.

Mussa had been living in Herat for several years, reportedly since his mosque in majority Shiite Muslim Iran was burned down. It was not clear whether he was the target of the bombing.

Riots followed the deadly explosion, resulting in attacks on the Iranian Consulate as well as on several Shiite Muslim mosques in the city, Khaikhwa said.

Most of Afghanistan's 21 million people, including most Taliban, are Sunni Muslim. Iran has been nervous about sending diplomats to Afghanistan since 1998, when several of its diplomats were killed following the Taliban takeover of the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

The bomb, which was strapped to a bicycle, exploded during afternoon prayers on Friday, the Muslim Sabbath, Khaikhwa said. Devout Muslims pray five times a day and on Friday most people go to the mosque to worship.

At least eight people were killed, he said, but Iranian sources reached in neighboring Pakistan said the death toll was at least 20. They also said about 100 people were injured.

Islam's Branches
Sunni Muslims are the majority of Muslim adherents and tend to be able to adapt their beliefs to live within secular societies, following laws set forth in both the Koran, the word of Allah, and the Hadith, a description of the life of Muhammad.

Shiite Muslims split from the mainstream over a dispute over who was the legitimate successor to Muhammad. In addition to following the Koran very closely, Shiite Muslims believe in a succession of 12 perfect teachers or Imams.


Another Taliban official, Abdul Hanan Himat, chief of the Taliban's Bakhtar News Agency in the Afghan capital of Kabul, said that the bomb exploded inside the grand marble Jami Mosque as Mussa gave a sermon. Two of Mussa's bodyguards were among the dead, he said.

"The peope of Herat accused Iran. Behind this explosion is Iran," Himat said.

Immediately after the explosion, hundreds of people set fire to Shiite Muslim mosques in Herat and marched on the Iranian Consulate, destroying several vehicles and part of the consulate.

The Taliban evacuated the consulate, according to Himat, who did not know how many Iranian diplomats were there.

"They are safe. Iran is in touch with the authorities. They are in a safe place," he said.

The Taliban blamed the 1998 killings on renegade troops, but the incident generated widespread fear of a possible retaliatory attack by the Iranian government.

Relations between the two countries have improved steadily.

However, the Taliban which claims control of about 95 percent of Afghanistan, accuses Iran of supporting an opposition alliance fighting Taliban rule.

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