A prominent Taliban religious leader, Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani, has been killed in a bombing attack at a seminary in Kabul, Taliban officials have said.
“Very sadly informed that respected cleric [Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani] was martyred in a cowardly attack by enemies,” said Bilal Karimi, a spokesperson for the Taliban administration, on Thursday.
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The ISIL (ISIS) armed group claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Reuters news agency, citing four Taliban sources, said the attacker was someone who had previously lost his leg and had hidden the explosives in a plastic artificial leg.
“We are investigating who this … person was and who had brought him to this important place to enter the personal office of Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani. It’s a very huge loss for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” said a senior Taliban official of the interior ministry, referring to the group’s name for its administration.
Later on Thursday, ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack on its telegram channels, saying the bomber had detonated an explosive vest inside the office of the scholar.
Haqqani was one of the most “prominent advocates for the Taliban and one of the biggest of them who incited to fight” ISIL, the monitoring group SITE said, translating a statement from ISIL.
Haqqani was a prominent scholar in the Taliban who had survived previous attacks, including a large blast in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar in 2020 claimed by the ISIL group that killed at least seven people.
Many Taliban officials took to social media to express their condolences.
“You have fulfilled your responsibility. Destiny cannot be prevented, but the Muslim community has been orphaned,” tweeted Mobin Khan, a former spokesman for the Kabul police.
A US-led invasion toppled the Taliban government following the September 11, 2001, attacks. Since coming back into power a year ago, the Taliban have said that they have restored security.
However, regular attacks by armed groups, many of them claimed by an ISIL affiliate known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K), have taken place in recent months.
Lately, the group has increased attacks on mosques and minorities across Afghanistan. In June, ISKP claimed responsibility for the attack on a Sikh temple in Kabul, killing two people.
The ISIL affiliate, which has been operating in Afghanistan since 2014, is seen as the greatest security challenge facing the country’s Taliban government.