HERAT, Afghanistan — An explosion tore through a crowded mosque in western Afghanistan on Friday, killing at least 18 people, including a prominent cleric close to the Taliban, according to Taliban officials and a local medic.
The explosion, in the city of Herat, left the courtyard of the Guzargah Mosque littered with bodies and the ground stained with blood, video from the scene showed.
The bomb went off around noon during Friday Prayer, when mosques are full of worshipers. As well as the 18 who died, at least 21 others were wounded, said Mohammad Daud Mohammadi, an official at the Herat ambulance center.
Among the dead was Mawlawi Mujib Rahman Ansari, a prominent cleric who was known in Afghanistan for his criticism of the Western-backed governments that had governed the country over the past two decades until the Taliban seized control last year.
Mawlawi Ansari was seen as close to the Taliban, and his death was confirmed by the group’s chief spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid.
Just before the bombing, Mawlawi Ansari had met in another part of the city with the Taliban government’s deputy prime minister, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was on a visit to Herat.
Mawlawi Ansari had rushed from the meeting to the mosque to get to the noon prayers, an aide to Mullah Baradar said in a Twitter post mourning the cleric.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Friday’s blast.
Last month, a bombing at a mosque in the Afghan capital, Kabul, targeted and killed a pro-Taliban cleric in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.
Mawlawi Ansari was for years a thorn in the side of the pro-Western governments in Afghanistan. In his sermons at the Guzargah, where he had long been the preacher, he urged his supporters to carry out protests against the governments and spoke out against women’s rights.