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A prominent Taliban cleric is killed in an explosion in Kabul

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Now to Afghanistan, where a prominent Taliban cleric, Rahimullah Haqqani, was killed today in Kabul. He was apparently targeted in the bomb blast that killed him. NPR's Diaa Hadid is in Kabul. Diaa, who was he? What's he best known for?

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Right. So Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani was a prominent cleric in the Taliban, and he was widely loved. He was particularly followed by Taliban members in the east of Afghanistan, where he came from. He was also a man known for his brazen opinions in a region where that can be deadly. So he had spoken out quite harshly against an Islamic form of practice called Salafism, and it's followed by many militant groups, in particular the local branch of ISIS. He had also spoken out in favor of girls' education, even though the Taliban have banned girls from going to secondary school. So you can see in that sort of the independence of his beliefs and the firmness of his beliefs. He survived a previous assassination attempt when he was living in Pakistan in the city of Peshawar. He was teaching in a madrassa when, in October 2020, a suicide bomber walked into a class and blew himself up. He killed 10 boys, but the sheikh himself survived the attack.

MARTINEZ: So what's known so far about what happened to him today?

HADID: So the deputy spokesman of the Taliban confirmed that he was killed. And Reuters has provided more detail. Reuters reports that a man with a prosthetic leg approached Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani and then blew himself up. It appears that the explosives were hidden in the prosthetic leg itself. There are unconfirmed reports so far that the attack happened in an area called Shash Darak. That's a part of the Green Zone in Kabul. It's a heavily guarded area. It's surrounded by blast walls. And the Taliban check everyone coming in and out of there because it's where their major security installations are. So if the attack indeed did take place there, it would be a major blow to their efforts to keep security in the capital.

MARTINEZ: And has anyone claimed responsibility?

HADID: There's been no claim of responsibility yet, but previous attacks like this have been the work of the local branch of ISIS. Sometimes these attacks are never claimed. The previous attack on Sheikh Rahimullah was never claimed, and that owes something, one suspects, to his stature in the Taliban.

MARTINEZ: Monday will mark one year since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. What's the security situation in the country now? And what are some of the challenges ahead for the Taliban?

HADID: Well, A, this is really interesting, because when the Taliban came to power a year ago, the one promise that they made to Afghans was that with them in power, decades of war and instability would end. The war was over. Afghans could have safety and security. They could live in peace. But that promise is looking increasingly tenuous, as we've seen in the past few months, a drumbeat of attacks against Taliban leaders, against Taliban fighters, against minorities like Shiite Hazaras. So even that promise looks like it's slowly coming undone. And it's not even been a year since they've been in power, so we may have interesting times ahead.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Diaa Hadid is in Kabul. Diaa, thank you very much.

HADID: Thank you, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.