A senior Taliban cleric known for his fiery speeches against the militant Islamic State (IS) group and support for female education, was killed in a suicide blast at his madrassah in Afghan capital on Thursday.

Rahimullah Haqqani, who had recently spoken publicly in favour of girls being allowed to attend school, had survived at least two previous assassination attempts — including one in Pakistan in October 2020.

“The madrassah of Sheikh Rahimullah was targeted today and as a result he and one of his brothers were martyred,” Kabul police spokesman Khalid Zadran told AFP, adding that three others were wounded in the blast.

Government spokesman Bilal Karimi confirmed Haqqani’s death “in an attack carried out by a cowardly enemy”, but did not offer further details.

Despite sharing the same name, the cleric was not related to Afghanistan’s Haqqani militant group network.

Hours later, IS claimed the attack on its telegram channels, saying the bomber had detonated his explosive vest inside the cleric’s office.

However, Reuters claimed the attacker detonated explosives “hidden in a plastic artificial leg”, quoting officials and Taliban sources.

Four Taliban sources told Reuters that the attacker was someone who had previously lost his leg and had hidden the explosives in a plastic artificial leg.

“We are investigating who this … person was and who had brought him to this important place to enter the personal office of Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani. It’s a very huge loss for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” said one senior Taliban official of the interior ministry.

Haqqani was one of the most “prominent advocates for the Taliban and one of the biggest of them who incited to fight” IS, jihadist monitoring group SITE said, translating a statement from IS.

Taliban sources said that although he held no official position, Haqqani was an influential figure who had taught many of the group’s members over the years.

Scores of Taliban officials took to social media to express their condolences.

“You have fulfilled your responsibility. Destiny cannot be prevented, but the Muslim community has been orphaned,” tweeted Mobin Khan, a former spokesman for the Kabul police.

Haqqani was known for angry speeches against IS, that has claimed several attacks in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s return to power in August last year.

In recent months, Haqq­ani also backed the right of girls to attend school.

“There is no justification in Sharia to say female education is not allowed. No justification at all,” he told the BBC in an interview in May.

He added: “All the religious books have stated female education is permissible and obligatory, because, for example, if a woman gets sick, in an Islamic environment like Afghanistan or Pakistan, and needs treatment, it’s much better if she’s treated by a female doctor.”

Since seizing power, the Taliban have imposed harsh restrictions on girls and women. They have not allo­wed secondary schools for girls to reopen in most parts of the country.

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