Suicide Bombers Kill Scores of Shiites in Afghanistan

December 6, 2011

KABUL, Afghanistan — At least 52 people died after bombers struck Shiite worshipers observing the Ashura holy day in three cities on Tuesday, detonating explosives amid crowds in the first such sectarian attacks in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime a decade ago.

Two of the attacks — in Kabul, where at least 48 people were killed, and in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where four died — were suicide bombings by attackers on foot. In a third attack, in the southern city of Kandahar, a bomb hidden on a parked motorcycle was detonated but no one was killed.

Gen. Abdul Zahair, head of the criminal investigation division of the Kabul Police Department, said the Kabul bombing had also left more than 100 wounded, many of them critically, and he feared the death toll would rise. A spokesman for the Public Health Ministry, Ghulam Sakhi Kargar, put the number of wounded in Kabul at 105.

Shirjan Durani, the spokesman for the police chief in Mazar-i-Sharif, said that the attack there killed at least four civilians and wounded 20 others, although he said that attacker failed to disrupt the Ashura celebrations because of heavy security.

The Kandahar attack targeted a Shiite procession but missed it, wounding two policemen and three passersby, according to Kandahar Police Chief Abdul Razaq.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but suicide attacks in Afghanistan have been attributed to the Taliban insurgents or allied groups like the Haqqani network.

While Afghanistan’s Shiite minority community, mostly ethnic Hazaras, were savagely discriminated against during the years of Taliban rule, they had not been singled out for attack during the current insurgency. Unlike neighboring Pakistan, where sectarian violence is rampant between Shiite and Sunni groups, there had been little such conflict in Afghanistan.

Ashura is the day on which Shiite Muslims commemorate the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Although it has long been a public holiday in Afghanistan, ceremonies were more visible this year than in the past.

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