Afghanistan mosque blast kills 18, including top cleric
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A huge bomb blast Friday at one of the biggest mosques in western Afghanistan killed at least 18 people, including an influential imam who earlier this year called for those who commit "the smallest act" against the government to be beheaded.
Violence has largely declined since the Taliban returned to power last year, but several bomb blasts -- some targeting minority communities -- have rocked the country in recent months, many claimed by the jihadist Islamic State (IS) group.
Government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed Mujib ur Rahman Ansari, the imam of the mosque, was among the dead.
"A strong and courageous religious scholar of this country was martyred in a brutal attack," he said on Twitter.
Ansari was an influential cleric known for his fiery speeches.
In July, during a religious gathering in Kabul, he strongly defended Afghanistan's new Taliban rulers.
"Whoever commits the smallest act against our Islamic government should be beheaded," he said.
"This (Taliban) flag has not been raised easily, and it will not be lowered easily."
Before the Taliban returned to power in August last year, Ansari was known for his tirades against the previous US-backed governments.
Haqqani was known for angry speeches against IS, who later claimed responsibility for his death.
He had also spoken in favour of girls being allowed to attend secondary school, despite the government banning them from attending classes in most provinces.
Several mosques across the country have been targeted this year, some in attacks claimed by IS.
IS has primarily targeted minority communities such as Shiites, Sufis and Sikhs.
While IS is a Sunni Islamist group like the Taliban, the two are bitter rivals and greatly diverge on ideological grounds.
Government officials claim that IS has been defeated but experts say the group is the main security challenge for the country's current Islamist rulers.