2011-12-06 / World

Bomber kills 54 in Kabul

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide bomber struck a crowd of Shiite worshippers at a mosque in Kabul today, killing at least 54 people in the deadliest of two attacks on a Shiite holy day — the first major sectarian assaults since the fall of the Taliban a decade ago.

Four other Shiites were killed in the northern city of Mazar- i- Sharif when a bomb strapped to a bicycle exploded as a convoy of Afghan Shiites was driving down the road, shouting slogans for the festival known as Ashoura. Health Ministry spokesman Sakhi Kargar gave the death toll and said 21 people also were wounded in that attack.

The Kabul bomber blew himself up in the midst of a crowd of men, women and children gathered outside the Abul Fazl shrine to commemorate the seventh century death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Imam Hussein. Some men were beating themselves in mourning and food was being distributed.

The shrine, which is near the presidential palace, was packed with worshippers and dozens more were crammed into the courtyard. One witness said the bomber was at the end of a line and detonated his explosives near one of the gates to the shrine.

Sayed Kabir Amiri, who is in charge of Kabul hospitals said 54 were killed and more than 160 wounded in the blast. He said casualties were taken to several hospitals and the toll could rise.

Religiously motivated attacks on Shiites are rare in Afghanistan although they are common in neighboring Pakistan. No group claimed responsibility for today’s blasts, reminiscent of the wave of sectarian attacks that shook Iraq during the height of the war there.

The Taliban strongly condemned the two attacks and said in a statement to news organizations that they deeply regretted that innocent Afghans were killed and wounded.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, speaking at a news conference after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, said the attack was unprecedented in scope.

He said it was “the first time that on such an important religious day in Afghanistan terrorism of that horrible nature is taking place.”

Mohammad Bakir Shaikzada, the top Shiite cleric in Kabul, said he could not remember a similar attack having taken place on such a scale.

“This is a crime against Muslims during the holy day of Ashoura. We Muslims will never forget these attacks. It is the enemy of the Muslims who are carrying them out,” he said, declining to place blame.

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