KABUL: Twin blasts at Afghan shrines on the Shia holy day of Ashura killed at least 58 people on Tuesday with one massive suicide attack in Kabul ripping through a crowd of worshippers including children.
The blast in Kabul and another in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif came a day after an international meeting in Germany meant to further efforts to end the Afghan war, 10 years after US-led forces drove the Taliban from power.
At least 54 people including children were killed in the huge explosion at the entrance to a riverside shrine in central Kabul, where hundreds of Shia Muslims had gathered to mark Ashura, an official said.
“Fifty-four are dead and 150 others are injured,” health ministry spokesman Ghulam Sakhi Kargar Noorughli said.
A young girl, dressed in a green shalwar kameez that was smeared in blood, stood shrieking as she was surrounded by the crumpled, piled-up bodies of children.
“I was there watching people mourning (for Ashura) when there was suddenly a huge explosion,” witness Ahmad Fawad said.
“Some people around me fell down injured. I wasn’t hurt, so I got up and started running. It was horrible,” he said.
Men and women at the scene sobbed as they surveyed the carnage, and screamed slogans denouncing al Qaeda and the Taliban.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either blast. Sectarian violence has been rare in Afghanistan but when the Sunni Taliban ruled in the 1990s, minority Shias from the Hazara group suffered brutal persecution.
Shias were banned from marking Ashura in public under the Taliban. Sectarian violence has not been common in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted in late 2001.
“A suicide bomber detonated his explosives in the Abu-Ul Fazil shrine,” Kabul police said in a statement.
A security official speaking on condition of anonymity said it was believed the bomber had arrived with a group of Shia pilgrims from Logar province, south of Kabul.
Separately, four people were killed in Mazar-i-Sharif when another blast struck a shrine in the northern city as crowds gathered for Ashura. It was not immediately clear whether Shias were the target.
Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai, a police spokesman for northern Afghanistan, said that the blast was caused by a bicycle bomb, adding that four other people had also been injured.
And police said that five people were wounded by a motorcycle bomb in the southern city of Kandahar, the Taliban’s heartland. But the police said the attack was unconnected to Ashura.
On Monday, at least 28 people were killed and 78 wounded in a wave of bomb attacks in central Iraq against Shia pilgrims making their way to Karbala.