KABUL — Attackers clad in burqas opened fire on a Shiite mosque and set off a suicide blast Friday, killing at least 39 people and injuring scores of others in southeastern Afghanistan, officials said.
The Taliban denied any links to the attack that occurred during prayers in Gardez, about 50 miles south of Kabul, and there was no immediate claim of responsibility from others.
But militants linked to the Islamic State have carried out similar attacks in the past against Shiites. The Islamic State and other Sunni-led extremists view Shiites as following a heretical branch of Islam.
Sardar Wali Tabasum, a provincial spokesman, said two assailants launched the mosque attack.
“One opened fire on the worshipers before the second one blew up explosives on his body,” he said. Each was said to be disguised in a burqa, the head-to-toe covering worn by Muslim women in Afghanistan.
Abdullah Hasrat, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said at least 39 people were killed and 80 injured. Witnesses said the mosque was badly damaged.
Several senior provincial Shiite clerics were among the victims, he said. Televised images showed a damaged part of the mosque with body parts strewn on its floor.
President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack, which he said was aimed at trying to create sectarian division in Afghanistan. Hundreds of Shiites have been killed in strikes by Islamic State militants in recent years in Afghanistan.
“This attack targeting civilians has no possible justification,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the United Nations secretary general’s special representative for Afghanistan and head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. “Those who are responsible for enabling this attack must be brought to justice and held to account.”
Yamamoto added in a statement: “These brutal and senseless attacks against people at prayer are atrocities. Such attacks . . . may amount to war crimes.”
Attackers have struck a variety of targets in Afghanistan in recent weeks.
On July 15, a suicide bomber detonated explosives outside a government office for rural projects, killing five people. On Thursday, the bodies of three foreign workers — from India, Malaysia and Macedonia — were found after they apparently were abducted and slain. The three men worked for Sodexo, one of the world’s leading food and catering services.
The rising violence casts further doubt on the ability of Ghani’s government to securely hold long-delayed parliamentary elections slated for October, followed by a presidential election in April 2019. Ghani announced last month that he intends to run for reelection.