Muslim Clerics Bombed Hours After Declaring Fatwa on Suicide Attacks in Afghanistan

A bomber killed at least seven people in an attack on a gathering of the country's top Muslim clerics, on the same day the organization declared an Islamic ruling against suicide attacks.

The Afghan Ulema Council was meeting in Kabul on Monday when the attacker struck, detonating his explosives at the city's Polytechnic University where the council was meeting, the Associated Press reported.

Around 2,000 members had gathered for the Loya Jirga, or council of elders, in a traditional Afghan tent erected to host the event. The bomb went off as the meeting was ending and attendees were preparing to leave.

Afghan security forces keep watch at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, on June 4, which targeted a meeting of the country's top Muslim clerics. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

Earlier on Monday, the council had issued an Islamic ruling, or fatwa, against suicide attacks, branding them haram, or forbidden, by Islam. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

The council had also called on the Afghan government and opposing militant groups, including the Taliban, to call a cease-fire amid a number of recent bombings and ongoing battles around the country. The elders also urged peace negotiations between the warring sides, the first time they had done so.

"War in all its types is illegal according to Sharia and Islamic laws, and it is nothing but shedding the blood of Muslims," the religious scholars said in the fatwa, according to Afghan news channel Tolo News.

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The Afghan Ulema Council represents the country's most respected and influential Muslim clerics. It is predominantly Sunni, and between 25 and 30 percent of members are Shiite. Founded in 2002, its reach has since spread to all 34 Afghan provinces. The Taliban had previously accused the council of being a puppet organization for the Western-backed national government in Kabul.

This is the latest in a series of attacks by the Taliban and ISIS on Kabul in recent months, as the spring military campaign season kicks into swing. In the rest of the country, Taliban militants are renewing their push for territory against Western-backed Afghan troops, and ISIS fighters are trying to carve their own influence.

Afghan policemen arrive at the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 9. The city has been targeted by many Taliban and ISIS operations in recent months. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan is approaching the end of its 17th year, making it the second-longest conflict in American history. The Taliban was quickly dislodged in the first months of the conflict, but its fighters regrouped and launched an enduring guerilla struggle against the government, slowly winning back territory as Western nations withdrew their troops.

Last month, a major Taliban attack on Farah, Afghanistan, was repulsed only after U.S. aircraft were assembled to assist the beleaguered Afghan troops defending the city. Though it is not clear how close the Taliban came to seizing Farah, such a large and ambitious operation demonstrates the group's growing confidence. U.S. military data suggests the Taliban controlled around 14 percent of the country's districts by the end of 2017.

There were reports last week that the Taliban had entered into secret talks with the Afghan government to bring the violence to an end. Officials are offering the Taliban the chance to become a legitimate political party if it recognizes Afghanistan's constitution and lays down its weapons.

The Taliban, however, dismissed the reports of peace talks, saying such negotiations would be pointless as long as Western troops were still in Afghanistan.