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Suicide Blast Kills At Least Seven At Cleric Gathering In Kabul


An Afghan police officer keeps watch near the site of a suicide bombing in Kabul on June 4.

Afghan security officials say a suicide bomb explosion hit a gathering of the country's top religious body in Kabul, killing at least seven people and wounding nine.

Shortly before the June 4 attack, the Afghan Ulema Council issued a religious order, or fatwa, against suicide bombings and urged peace talks to end the Afghan conflict.

It was not immediately clear how many of the clerics were among those killed. The Islamic State extremist group later claimed responsibility for the blast, which it said had killed 70 people, without providing evidence.

Ghafor Aziz, a police district chief, said the blast was caused by a suicide bomber who detonated his explosives near the entrance of a compound in the west of the capital where the Afghan Ulema Council was meeting.

The attacker struck after around 2,000 Muslim clerics, scholars, and figures of authority in religion and law from across Afghanistan who had gathered for the meeting issued a fatwa declaring suicide attacks forbidden, or "haram," under the principles of Islam.

It also appealed to both Afghan government forces and the Taliban and other militants to agree on a cease-fire and called for peace negotiations between the sides.

Reading out a statement from the gathering, council member Ghofranullah Murad said that "the ongoing war in Afghanistan is illegal and has no root in Shari'a law."

"It is illegal according to Islamic laws and it does nothing but shed the blood of Muslims," the statement said.

"We the religious Ulema call on the Taliban to respond positively to the peace offer of the Afghan government in order to prevent further bloodshed in the country," it added.

Militant attacks have killed dozens of people in Kabul in recent months, showing no sign of easing during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.

On May 30, an attack on the Interior Ministry in the city killed one policeman, officials said. A suicide bomber and all seven gunmen involved also died in the assault, which was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

Meanwhile, the Taliban has stepped up its attacks against Afghan security forces as well as government officials across the country since the announcement of its spring offensive in April.

The Western-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to fend off the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO troops in 2014.

The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan said on May 31 that the Taliban has held meetings with Afghan officials to discuss a cease-fire.

General John Nicholson said the talks also involved foreign governments and international organizations.

However, the Taliban has rejected the comments as a "false claim."

In February, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered to allow the Taliban to establish itself as a political party and said he would work to remove sanctions on the militant group, among other incentives, if it joined the government in peace negotiations.

In return, the militants would have to recognize the Kabul government and respect the rule of law.

With reporting by Reuters and AP
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