U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Washington remains committed to "peace and stability" in Afghanistan and the fight against terrorism following a deadly attack on a mosque in the war-ravaged country.
In a statement on October 19, Pompeo said the "attack on worshipers at a mosque in Nangarhar, Afghanistan, reveals the cowardice and cruelty of those who disregard human life and perpetuate violence against innocents."
"Places of worship should be sanctuaries, not targets for deadly attacks," added Pompeo, who said the United States condemns "in the strongest terms this intentional attack on civilians, and offer our condolences to the victims and their families."
"The United States remains committed to peace and stability in Afghanistan, and will continue to fight against terrorism. We stand by the people of Afghanistan who only want peace and a future free from these abhorrent acts of violence," he said.
Pompeo's comments come as funerals were held in eastern Afghanistan for victims of a bombing the day before at a mosque that killed at least 69 people during Friday Prayers.
The mosque in the village of Chodari in Nangarhar Province was full of worshipers at the time of the explosion on October 18, said Sohrab Qaderi, a member the provincial council.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, but both the Taliban and the Islamic State extremist group are active in eastern Afghanistan, especially Nangarhar Province.
However, a Taliban spokesman in a statement condemned the attack in Nangarhar and called it a "serious crime."
Taliban extremists, who are Sunni and largely ethnic Pashtuns, were accused of committing human rights violations against the Shi'ite minority and other groups during their oppressive 1996-2001 rule.
Shi'a are estimated to number around 3 million in overwhelmingly Sunni Afghanistan, and the majority belong to the Hazara ethnic group.
Western-backed leaders in Kabul are struggling to prevent attacks by extremists looking to overthrow the central government.
Violence has continued despite a series of peace talks by U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban negotiators in Qatar.
The talks broke off after U.S. President Donald Trump in early September canceled a secret meeting that was to include leaders of the militant group that carried out a recent car bombing in Kabul that killed 12 people, including a U.S. soldier.
The Taliban on September 18 said the "doors are open" to resuming talks with the United States, even as the extremists continued a terror campaign against the government and civilians.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP