Blasts across Afghanistan target Shi’ites, 59 dead

KABUL, (Reuters) – A suicide attack killed  dozens of Shi’ite Muslims at a crowded Kabul shrine yesterday,  and four others died in a smaller blast in a key northern city,  in the worst sectarian violence Afghanistan has seen since the  fall of the Taliban.

The Kabul bomb was the deadliest in the capital since 2008,  and punctured any lingering sense of optimism from a conference  on Monday where Western allies made firm but not specific  promises to support Afghanistan after troops leave in 2014.

Bodies and blood were scattered down a street in the heart  of old Kabul where a crowd of hundreds had gathered to mark the  festival of Ashura, with chanting, and self-flagellation. At  least 55 were killed and 160 wounded, some critically.

People react seconds after a suicide blast targeting a Shi’ite Muslim gathering in Kabul yesterday. REUTERS/Najibullah Musafer

Afghans, who have previously been spared the large-scale  sectarian attacks that regularly trouble Iraq and neighbouring  Pakistan, now face the grim prospect of a new type of bloodshed  being added to the dangers of daily life.

“This is the first time on such an important religious day  in Afghanistan that terrorism of that horrible nature is taking  place,” Afghan President Hamid Karzai told journalists in  Germany, where the conference on Afghanistan’s future was held.

Outside a Kabul hospital, mourners cried near a pile of  bloody clothes and shoes. A woman in a dark headscarf clutching  a bloodstained sports shoe said her son, in his early 20s, had  died. “They killed my son … this is his shoe,” she wailed.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks in  Kabul and northern Mazar-i-Sharif. The Taliban strongly  condemned the bombings and blamed “invader enemies”.

Afghanistan has a history of tension and violence between  Sunnis and the Shi’ite minority. But since the fall of the  Taliban the country had avoided the large scale sectarian  attacks that have troubled neighbouring Pakistan.

“Afghanistan has been at war for 30 years and terrible  things have happened, but one of the things that Afghans have  been spared generally has been what appears to be this kind of  very targeted sectarian attack,” said Kate Clark, from the  Afghanistan Analysts Network.

“We don’t know who planted the bomb yet and it is dangerous  to jump to conclusions but if it was Taliban, it marks something  really serious, and dangerous, and very troubling.”

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