KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Afghan Taliban on Tuesday denounced the so-called Islamic Scholars conferences in Asia and the Middle East as an “American process” and urged clerics to reject the gatherings.
The Taliban alleged in a statement that the U.S. first gathered religious scholars for a conference in Indonesia in May, and has since organized similar conferences in Kabul, Islamabad, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
No date has been set for a conference in Saudi Arabia.
The Taliban said in the statement they consider the conferences to be anti-Islamic and led by the U.S. It said the U.S. is using them to seek justification for its “military occupation” of Afghanistan.
“The Islamic Emirate urges religious scholars to reject these conferences which are a scheme of the invaders,” it said.
There was no immediate indication the U.S. played a role in organizing the conferences, and the Taliban statement did not offer any evidence.
Earlier this month, a suicide bomber targeted the gathering of Afghanistan’s top clerics, killing at least seven people and wounding 20 shortly after the religious leaders issued a decree against such attacks and called for peace talks.
The attack was claimed by the Islamic State group.
Around 2,000 members of the council had gathered for the meeting, which was held beneath a large, traditional tent. The bomber struck near the end of the meeting, as the participants were about to leave.
Shortly before the attack, the clerics had issued an Islamic ruling, or a fatwa, declaring that suicide attacks are “haram” — forbidden under Islamic law.
The fatwa also said that killing people by any means, including with bombs and suicide attacks, are sins in Islam.
The Taliban in April announced the start of its annual spring offensive, but in recent years, both the Taliban and the Islamic State affiliate have carried out near-daily attacks year-round. The Taliban have managed to seize control of several districts across the country and regularly target Kabul, the capital.
Both militant groups seek to overthrow the U.S.-backed government and impose a harsh version of Islamic rule, but they are split over leadership, tactics and ideology. Their relentless assaults underscore the struggles that Afghan forces have faced since the United States and NATO concluded their combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014.
Thousands of American troops remain in Afghanistan in counterterrorism and support roles. The Trump administration has sent additional troops to try to change the course of America’s longest war.
“Once again we respectfully urge the religious scholars of Afghanistan and the Muslim world to cooperate and help the Muslim nation … instead of assisting and participating in the conferences of the secret service of the enemy,” the Taliban said in the statement.
Associated Press writer Josh Lederman in Washington contributed.