A suicide bombing attack on a mosque in the Afghan town of Kunduz killed at least 50 people, officials said, in the deadliest attack since the departure of US forces.
Bodies were seen strewn inside the Said Abad Mosque, used by the minority Shia Muslim community.
More than 100 people were injured in the blast in the northern city.
The Islamic State group said it was behind the attack. Sunni Muslim extremists have targeted Shiites whom they consider to be heretics.
IS-K, the Afghan regional subsidiary of the IS group which violently opposes the ruling Taliban, has recently carried out several bombings, mainly in the east of the country.
Zalmai Alokzai, a local businessman who rushed to a hospital to check if doctors needed blood donation, described seeing chaotic scenes after the attack during Friday prayers.
“Ambulances were returning to the scene of the incident to transport the dead,” he told AFP news agency.
Local security officials were quoted by Tolo News as saying more than 300 people were attending prayers when the attack happened.
The UN said Friday’s bombing was a “third deadly attack this week apparently targeting a religious institution” and part of a “disturbing pattern of violence”.
The UN referred to the bombing on Sunday near a mosque in the capital Kabul, which left several people dead, and the attack on a madrassa (educational institution) in the eastern town of Khost on Wednesday.
A major threat to the Taliban
Although there has been no claim of responsibility so far, this attack bears all the hallmarks of IS-K, the group that targeted Kabul airport in a devastating bombardment in August.
The group has repeatedly targeted Afghanistan’s Shiite minority in the past, with suicide bombers hitting mosques, sports clubs and schools. In recent weeks, ISIS has also stepped up a campaign of attacks against the Taliban.
ISIS targeted a funeral prayer service attended by a number of senior Taliban leaders in Kabul on Sunday, and there have been a series of smaller attacks in the eastern provinces of Nangarhar and Kunar, where the EI previously had its stronghold.
Friday’s attack, if carried out by ISIS, would mark a grim expansion of their activities in the north of the country. The Taliban say it has arrested dozens of ISIS operatives and killed others suspected of having ties to the group, but publicly they have also played down the ISIS threat.
Many Afghans hoped that the Taliban takeover would herald at least a more peaceful, albeit authoritarian, era. But IS poses a significant threat to the Taliban’s promise to improve security.
The Taliban took control of Afghanistan after foreign forces withdrew from the country in late August following an agreement reached with the United States.
This came two decades after US forces ousted the militants from power in 2001.