Media reports say Afghanistan’s Taliban government confirmed on April 19 that one of its leading religious scholars was assassinated by unknown assailants in neighboring Pakistan.

The deceased, identified as Mohammad Omar Jan Akhundzada, was leading evening prayers at a mosque in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta on April 18 when gunmen stormed the building and fatally shot him before fleeing, according to local police.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the deadly shooting.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on April 19 on social media platform X that Akhundzada was part of a government oversight committee of top Islamic scholars and taught at the central “jihadi” madrasa, or Isla mic seminary, in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.   

The Voice of America (VOA) says multiple Afghan sources reported that the slain scholar was a senior adviser to the reclusive Taliban supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, who is based in Kandahar and governs Afghanistan from there through religious decrees stemming from his strict interpretation of Islam.

A senior Taliban official explained that the oversight committee comprises leading religious scholars and is responsible for reviewing all regulations before they are implemented to ensure that they conform to Islamic principles.

Afghanistan’s Khaama Press News Agency says that according to reports, Akhundzada had gone to a village in Quetta, Pakistan, to visit his family during the Eid al-Fitr days when he was killed by unknown assailants.

The Taliban spokesperson and other officials of the group have not provided any explanation on how Mohammad Omar Jan Akhundzada was killed and by whom.

The Taliban has condemned the killing of Mohammad Omar Jan Akhundzada, calling his death a “great crime.”

Akhundzada was reportedly appointed as special advisor to Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada in March 2022. Khaama Press says he wielded influence among religious scholars in Kandahar and was part of the Taliban leader’s inner circle.  Mullah Hibatullah consults trusted individuals in Kandahar on key matters, often bypassing the Kabul cabinet and Taliban ministries in decision-making.

Quetta is the capital of Pakistan’s border province of Baluchistan.  The city and surrounding areas host hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees and have previously also witnessed deadly attacks on Taliban-affiliated personalities in the community.