The brother of the leader of the Afghan Taliban was among at least four people killed in a bomb blast at a mosque in Pakistan on Friday, two Taliban sources told Reuters, an attack that could affect efforts to end the Afghan war.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast which took place as the Taliban and the United States are in the final stages of talks on an agreement that would see America withdraw its troops from neighboring Afghanistan.
Police said more than 20 people were wounded and the death toll could rise. The imam of the mosque, 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the southwestern city of Quetta, was among those killed, police said.
Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada was not in the mosque when the bomb went off but his younger brother, Hafiz Ahmadullah, was among those killed.
“We lost younger brother of Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada in a bomb blast,” said a senior member of the Taliban who declined to be identified.
Akhundzada’s son was wounded, one of the sources said.
The mosque and an adjoining religious school were known to be visited by members of the Afghan Taliban. Akhundzada used to teach and lead prayers at the complex, the senior Taliban member said.
Pakistani police did not confirm the identity of any of the victims.
“It was a timed device planted under the wooden chair of the prayer leader,” said Abdul Razzaq Cheema, chief of police in Quetta, capital of Balochistan province.
One of the sources, who visited the site after the blast, said security at the mosque was always very tight.
Provincial police chief Mohsin Hassan Butt said the explosion - the latest violence in a string of attacks in restive Baluchistan province - was caused by a remotely detonated bomb in the town of Kuchlak.
Baluchistan, Pakistan’s largest and poorest province bordering Afghanistan and Iran, is rife with extremist, separatist and sectarian insurgencies, even as incidents of violence have significantly dropped elsewhere in Pakistan.
Militants still retain the ability to carry out attacks, including on major urban centers and tightly-guarded targets, and analysts have long warned that Pakistan is yet to tackle the root causes of extremism.
Baluchistan is key to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), part of Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative.
CPEC seeks to connect China’s western province of Xinjiang with the Pakistani port of Gwadar, giving Beijing access to the Arabian Sea.