A suicide bomber targeted a gathering of nearly 2,000 top Islamic clerics in Kabul on Monday, less than an hour after the scholars declared a fatwa condemning suicide attacks as “unforgivable sins,” or haram, under Islamic law and urging the Taliban to engage in peace talks with the U.S.-backed Afghan government.
The attack came days after the U.S. Department of State (DOS) warned in its International Religious Freedom for 2017 Report that the Taliban and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) are increasingly killing and threatening clerics in Afghanistan for preaching messages contrary to their version of Islam.
Although the Taliban has denied involvement in Monday’s attack, DOS reported that last year, “the Taliban continued to assassinate or issue death threats against Sunni clerics for preaching messages contrary to its interpretation of Islam; Taliban gunmen killed imams and other religious officials throughout the country.”
“Both the Taliban and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) have stepped up attacks on Kabul, making it the deadliest place in the country for civilians in recent months,” Al Jazeera added Monday.
Najib Danish, a spokesman for the Afghan interior ministry, confirmed to Al Jazeera that the jihadist killed at least seven people and wounded about nine others on Monday.
Voice of America (VOA) learned from Hasmatullah Satnikzai, a police spokesman in the capital city, that the attack occurred as hundreds of scholars were leaving a meeting of the Loya Jirga, or council of elders, held under the clerics’ traditional tent.
Ghafor Aziz, police chief of Kabul’s 5th District, said the bomber detonated his explosives near the entrance of a compound where the religious body, known as the Afghan Ulema Council, was meeting under the traditional tent of the Loya Jirga, the council of elders.
Around 2,000 members of the council had gathered for the meeting at the tent erected in the Afghan capital’s 5th District. The explosion struck as the council was ending and the participants were about to leave, Aziz also said. Shortly before the attack, the clerics had issued a fatwa, declaring that suicide attacks are “haram” — forbidden under Islamic law.
Less than an hour before the bomber blew himself up, Ghofranullah Murad, a member of the Loya Jirga, read out a written statement proclaiming that the “true victims” of the nearly 17-year-old war are innocent Afghan men, women, and children, Dawn reports.
Citing the statement, Murad declared, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL):
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. … We the religious Ulema [scholars] call on the Taliban to respond positively to the peace offer of the Afghan government in order to prevent further bloodshed in the country.
The top Islamic clerics were referring to the offer of a ceasefire and official political recognition that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani made in February with the support of the United States.
“While the Taliban has not so far directly responded to Ghani’s peace overture, the insurgent group has since indirectly reiterated it would not engage in any intra-Afghan talks until all U.S. and NATO forces withdraw from the country,” VOA concedes.
The Taliban has denied U.S. Gen. John Nicholson’s claim that some members of the terrorist group are participating in “confidential” negotiations with Kabul, which he described as “talking and fighting.”
Reportedly, Monday’s meeting was intended to support the Afghan government’s efforts towards a “reconciliation” agreement with the Taliban to end the war.
“Reconciliation” between the Taliban and Kabul is the primary goal of U.S. President Donald Trump’s strategy in Afghanistan, Gen. Nicholson declared.
The council appealed on both the Afghan government forces and the Taliban and other militants to halt the fighting and agree on a cease-fire. It also called for peace negotiations between the two sides. It was the first time the council has issued such an appeal.
The U.S. State Department reported that the Taliban and ISIS are actively targeting clerics, noting:
Officials from the President’s Office and the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs (MOHRA) estimated the pace of killings by the Taliban had increased and would likely exceed the 150 religious officials killed in 2016… Insurgents claiming affiliation with the [ISIS] reportedly engaged in similar activities…
Both Sunni groups— Taliban and ISIS — have intensified their attacks against worshippers, mainly from the Shiite religious minority, but also members of their sect.
The number of casualties (202 deaths and 297 injuries) from the 37 attacks against places of worship, religious leaders, and worshippers primarily at the hands of the Taliban last year, marked an increase of more than 30 percent from such attacks in 2016.
During Ramadan, the holiest month for Muslims, the Taliban has proven to be the most prolific terrorist group, killing and wounding more people than any other jihadist group since the ongoing period started on May 17.