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Blast at Mosque Kills Dozens in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan — An explosion killed at least 60 people during Friday Prayer at a mosque in eastern Afghanistan, local officials said. It is unclear who set off the blast.

The attack in Deh Bala, a small agricultural district in Nangarhar Province, caused the mosque’s roof to collapse, wounding at least 50 other people, said Mohammad Zahir Adel, the spokesman for public health in Nangarhar.

Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar Province, said that explosives had been stashed under a podium in the main atrium of the mosque where people were praying before they exploded.

The bombing follows what has been several bloody months in Afghanistan. The United Nations estimated that 1,174 civilians were killed and 3,139 wounded from July 1 to Sept. 30, a 42 percent increase from the same period last year, according to a report released on Thursday.

Mr. Adel said that people were still trapped in the rubble and that he expected the toll to rise as emergency workers arrived at the scene. Local officials said up to 70 people may have been killed.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. Deh Bala borders much of the rural territory held by the Islamic State’s offshoot in Afghanistan. Though the group is relegated to the foothills and surrounding mountains, the Islamic State’s mere presence has made security in the district difficult.

“Such intentional killing of scores of civilians while at prayer is a war crime,” Omar Waraich, Amnesty International’s deputy South Asia director, said in a statement Friday. “This is not a war that is winding down, it is escalating and the people who are suffering the most are civilians.”

A concerted military offensive cleared Islamic State fighters from much of Deh Bala in 2018, and the American military has maintained a small base there of Special Forces troops with Afghan commandos in a nearby outpost.

Mr. Khogyani said on Friday that the Americans had sent equipment to help extricate the wounded and dead from the mosque.

The United Nations says that civilian casualties in Afghanistan caused by the Islamic State have decreased 50 percent compared with the first nine months of 2018, but the extremist group has claimed responsibility for some of the deadliest attacks on civilians this year.

In August, a suicide bombing in a wedding hall in Kabul killed as many as 80 people, and a truck bombing outside a hospital in Zabul Province killed at least 20. Ultimately, from July to September, the United Nations said, the Islamic State was responsible for 1,013 civilian casualties: 229 dead and 784 wounded.

Since 2015, the United States and Afghanistan have poured resources into eliminating the Islamic State through military operations and airstrikes, killing hundreds of its fighters. But the group has nonetheless managed to secure a foothold in eastern Afghanistan with 2,000 to 3,000 fighters, and is spreading to other provinces, with active cells in Kabul, the capital.

Fatima Faizi contributed reporting from Kabul, and Zabihullah Ghazi from Nangarhar.

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