Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities said Friday a bomb blast inside a packed mosque in northeastern Kunduz province has killed at least 33 worshipers, including children.
Chief Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the death toll, saying the afternoon bombing in the province’s Imam Sahib district wounded 43 other people.
"We condemn this crime ... and express our deepest sympathies to the bereaved," Mujahid said on Twitter.
Images posted to social media, which could not be immediately verified, showed holes blown through the walls of the Mawlavi Sikandar mosque, popular with Sufis, north of Kunduz city.
"The sight at the mosque was horrifying. All those who were worshipping inside the mosque were either injured or killed," said Mohammad Esah, who owns a shop near the mosque.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility, though officials suspected Islamic State militants could be behind the bloodshed.
Ramiz Alakbarov, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan, in a statement, expressed his deep sorrow over what he condemned as a horrific attack.
“This week’s tragic events are a painful reminder of the insecurity and dangers facing the Afghan people daily,” Alakbarov said. “The indiscriminate use of improvised explosive devices, which has already caused more than a hundred civilian casualties this week, is unacceptable and must cease immediately.”
The deadly attack comes a day after a bomb ripped through a Shi’ite Muslim mosque in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, killing at least 11 people.
Islamic State claimed credit for that attack, one of a series of blasts around Afghanistan on Thursday. They collectively killed at least 22 people and injured dozens of others. One of those attacks took place in Kunduz and it was also claimed by Islamic State.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in a statement Friday, condemned the bombings that struck the country the previous day.
“He extends his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and wishes a swift recovery to those injured,” Guterres’ spokesman quoted him as saying. “Attacks against civilians and civilian objects, including mosques, are strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law.”
Earlier on Friday, the Taliban authorities said they had arrested the IS "mastermind" of Thursday's bombing at the mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif.
On Wednesday, three bomb blasts at a boys’ school and a nearby tuition center in a Shi’ite-dominated western part of the Afghan capital, Kabul, killed at least six people and injured more than a dozen. The victims were mostly children and members of the Afghan Hazara community, who are Shi’ite Muslims. No group has yet taken responsibility for those attacks.
The Sunni-based IS Afghan affiliate, known as Islamic State Khorasan Province or ISKP, has stepped up attacks in the country since the Taliban regained power last August when they ousted the Western-backed government in Kabul.
U.S.-led foreign troops withdrew from Afghanistan later that month after being at war with Taliban insurgents for almost 20 years.
The Taliban say they have brought security to the war-ravaged nation but international and domestic critics question those claims in the wake of the resurgence of IS attacks.
Up to 10 percent of the country’s estimated 40 million people are Afghan Hazara. The community is considered the most persecuted minority group in Afghanistan and is discriminated against by many in the Sunni-majority country.
VOA U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report. Some information came from Agence France-Presse.