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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mosque Bombed in Afghanistan

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- The police chief of Afghanistan's capital was among 19 people killed in a suicide bomb blast at a mosque on Wednesday as mourners gathered to pay respects to an assassinated anti-Taliban cleric.

The governor of troubled Kandahar province blamed Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network for the first suicide attack on an Afghan mosque, while the interior minister said the bomber was believed to be a foreigner.

Kabul police chief Akram Khakreezwal was among the mourners killed at the Abdul Rab Akhundzada mosque in the southern city of Kandahar.

"I saw bodies scattered, blood all over the place. Dead policemen were also lying there," said shop owner Kalimullah, who reached the mosque moments after the blast.

It was the most serious in a recent spate of attacks, with 19 people killed and 52 wounded, said Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali.

The bomber wore a police uniform, several survivors said. He had walked into the crowded mosque by mingling with Khakreezwal's security men as they entered with their boss, who was from Kandahar, police said.

Mourners had gathered to pay respects to Mawlavi Abdullah Fayaz, a prominent critic of the Taliban who was killed on Sunday by gunmen on a motorcycle as he was leaving his office.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Kandahar governor Gul Agha Sherzai said authorities had gotten word of several Arab suicide bombers in the area.

"Definitely, it was al-Qaida. I can say he was an Arab," Sherzai told reporters, referring to the bomber. Asked what proof he had, he said the man's complexion.

Jalali said in Kabul that the bomber was believed to be a foreigner. He did not elaborate but described him as an enemy of Islam.

During the rule of the hardline Taliban, hundreds of Arabs came to Afghanistan to join bin Laden and al-Qaida. Some are still with anti-government insurgents on the Pakistan border.

Attacks on mosques in Afghanistan are rare, and until recent years suicide attacks were unheard of.

Afghanistan has not seen the sort of rivalry between majority Sunni Muslims and minority Shiites that has led to numerous blasts at mosques and shrines in neighboring Pakistan.

Fayaz, the head of a government-appointed Islamic scholars' council, survived a bomb attack at the Abdul Rab Akhundzada mosque two years ago, which was blamed on the Taliban.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for his death, but Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi ruled out involvement in Wednesday's blast, condemning attacks on places of worship. "This is not the Taliban's work," he said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

In another blast, an Afghan working for an agency clearing landmines was killed and four colleagues were wounded when a bomb planted on a bicycle went off as their vehicle passed in neighboring Helmand province, an official there said.

About 50 aid workers have been killed in Afghanistan over the past two years.