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Dozens killed in blast at Afghan religious gathering

Omar Sobhani, REUTERS | Afghan policeman keep watch at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan November 20, 2018.

More than 50 people were killed in an explosion at a meeting of top clerics in Kabul on Tuesday, officials said, in one of the deadliest attacks to strike the Afghan capital in months.

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Afghanistan's health ministry said more than 80 people were also wounded in the blast, which targeted a gathering of religious leaders, including members of the Ulema Council, at a wedding hall to mark the Prophet Mohammed's birthday.

"The suicide bomber detonated himself inside the hall during a ceremony by religious scholars," Kabul police spokesman Basir Mujahid said, confirming the casualty toll.

A manager of Uranus Wedding Palace, which also hosts political and religious functions, said a suicide bomber blew himself up in the middle of the gathering.

“There are a lot of casualties – I myself have counted 30 casualties,” he told AFP on the condition of anonymity.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, but the Islamic State (IS) group has claimed most recent suicide attacks in Kabul, which has become the deadliest place in the country for civilians.

It is the bloodiest assault in the Afghan capital since a twin bomb attack on a wrestling club in September that killed at least 26 people.

Last month's parliamentary elections sparked a wave of deadly violence across the country, with hundreds killed or wounded in poll-related attacks.

It is not the first time that religious scholars have been targeted by militants in the deeply religious country.

In June a suicide bomber struck near a gathering of clerics in Kabul, about an hour after the group had proclaimed such attacks a sin.  

The latest attack comes as the Taliban intensifies pressure on Afghan security forces, even as the international community ramps up efforts to convince the group to engage in peace talks.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

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