Blasts hit Kabul Shiites on holy day of Ashura

Blasts hit Kabul Shiites on holy day of Ashura

Blasts hit Kabul Shiites on holy day of Ashura

A wounded man and a boy try to stand up after a suicide blast targeting a Shiites in Kabul. The crowd of hundreds had gathered for the festival of Ashura. REUTERS photo

Twin blasts at Afghan shrines on the Shiite holy day of Ashura left at least 58 people dead yesterday, with one massive suicide attack in Kabul ripping through a crowd of worshippers including children.

The attack in the capital and another in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif came a day after an international meeting in Germany aimed at charting a course for Afghanistan, 10 years after U.S.-led forces drove the Taliban from power. The Kabul blast alone killed 54 people, in the deadliest strike on the capital in three years, which President Hamid Karzai said was the first “terrorist” act on an important holy day.

NATO also condemned the attacks while the Taliban did not claim responsibility and instead denounced them as “inhumane” and blamed the bloodshed on the “invading enemy”. The explosion erupted at the entrance to a riverside shrine in central Kabul, where hundreds of singing Shiite Muslims had gathered to mark Ashura, with men whipping their bare backs as part of the traditional mourning.

Health ministry spokesman Ghulam Sakhi Kargar Noorughli told Agence France-Presse that 54 were dead in the Kabul attack and another 150 wounded. Separately, four people were killed in Mazar-i-Sharif when another blast struck a shrine in the northern city. It was not immediately clear whether Shiites were the target. The explosion was caused by a bicycle bomb, said Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai, a police spokesman for northern Afghanistan, adding that another four people were wounded. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either of the attacks.

During the 10-day Ashura ceremonies, which peaked on Tuesday, Shiites beat themselves with knives and chains in religious fervour as they mark the seventh-century killing of a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.

The blasts came the day after delegates at the Bonn conference agreed to extend international support for Afghanistan to 2024 following the scheduled withdrawal of all foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.

Pakistan and the Taliban -- both seen as pivotal to ending Afghanistan’s long war -- boycotted the talks, undermining already modest hopes for progress. Karzai, who is still in Germany following the Bonn conference, appealed to Pakistan saying it had “a very important role to play in the peace process in Afghanistan.”

Iraqi pilgrims struck too

“Pakistan unfortunately suffers from the presence of sanctuaries (for Taliban insurgents) there and unless we address the sanctuaries and work together towards a comprehensive understanding of our problems and the eradication of radicalism we will neither see peace in Afghanistan nor peace and stability in Pakistan,” he told a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Also, millions flooded Iraq’s shrine city Karbala yesterday for Ashura rituals on Shiite Islam’s most important day, amid tight security after five bomb attacks hit pilgrims that left 28 people dead. On Dec. 5, at least 28 people were killed and 78 wounded in a wave of bomb attacks in central Iraq against Shiite pilgrims. In the first attack, a bomb exploded among Shiite pilgrims in Latifiyah, about 30 kilometers south of the capital, killing two of them and wounding three others, police said.

Hours later, a car bomb exploded near a group of Shiite pilgrims in the town of Mahaweel as they were heading to Karbala, killing eight people and wounding about 56 other pilgrims, said police officials in Babil province. Three more attacks against Shiite pilgrims in the capital killed 11 people and wounded 41 others, police said. The 10-day Ashura commemorations began on November 27, peaking in Karbala yesterday.