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Officials: Blast at Afghan mosque kills 62 during prayers

A wounded man is brought by stretcher into a hospital after a mortar was fired by insurgents in Haskamena district of Jalalabad east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. An Afghan official says at least several people have been killed during Friday prayers when a mortar fired by insurgents blasted through the roof of a mosque. (AP Photo/Wali Sabawoon)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An explosion rocked a mosque in eastern Afghanistan as dozens of people gathered to offer Friday players, causing the roof to collapse and killing 62 worshippers, provincial officials said.

Attahullah Khogyani, spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar, said the militant attack wounded 36 others. He said it was not immediately clear if the mosque was attacked by a suicide bomber or some other type of bombing.

“Both men and children are among those killed and wounded in the attack,” he said.

Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani strongly condemned the attack on his official twitter account, “The Afghan government strongly condemns today’s suicide attack in a mosque in Nangarhar province,” Sediqqi tweeted.

“The Taliban and their partners heinous crimes continue to target civilians in time of worship,” he added.

A wounded man is brought by stretcher into a hospital after a mortar was fired by insurgents in Haskamena district of Jalalabad east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. An Afghan official says at least several people have been killed during Friday prayers when a mortar fired by insurgents blasted through the roof of a mosque. (AP Photo/Wali Sabawoon)

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but both the Taliban and the Islamic State group are active in eastern Afghanistan, especially Nangarhar province.

However, Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban’s spokesman in a statement condemned the attack in Nangarhar and called it a serious crime.

Zahir Adil, spokesman for the public health department in Nangarhar Province, said 23 of the wounded were transferred to Jalalabad, the provincial capital, and the rest were being treated in the Haskamena district clinic.

The violence comes a day after a United Nations report said that Afghan civilians are dying in record numbers in the country’s increasingly brutal war, noting that more civilians died in July than in any previous one-month period since the U.N. began keeping statistics.

“Civilian casualties at record-high levels clearly show the need for all parties concerned to pay much more attention to protecting the civilian population, including through a review of conduct during combat operations,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan.

The report said that pro-government forces caused 2,348 civilian casualties, including 1,149 killed and 1,199 wounded, a 26% increase from the same period in 2018.

The report said 2,563 civilians were killed and 5,676 were wounded in the first nine months of this year. Insurgents were responsible for 62 percent. July to September were the deadliest months so far this year.

Efforts have been stepped up to restart talks to end Afghanistan’s 18-year war.

Earlier this month, U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad visited Pakistan, where he met with the Taliban’s top negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the hard-line Taliban movement and head of a Taliban delegation to the Pakistani capital.

U.S. officials said Khalilzad was in the Pakistani capital to follow up on talks he held in September in New York with Pakistani officials, including Prime Minister Imran Khan.

They insisted Khalilzad was not in Pakistan to restart U.S.-Taliban peace talks __ at least not yet.

The meeting was significant and the first that Khalilzad has held with the Taliban since last month, when President Donald Trump declared that the talks were “dead,” blaming an uptick in violence by the Taliban that included the killing of a U.S. soldier.

In western Herat province, six civilians including four children were killed Thursday when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb, said Jelani Farhad, spokesman for the provincial governor. He added that five other civilians were wounded in the attack in the Zawal district.