New fears of sectarian strife after Kabul blast

Suicide attack at Shia shrine on holy day is blamed on Taliban and Pakistan

Kabul

At least 55 people died in Afghanistan yesterday when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a Shia shrine in Kabul, igniting fears of a new and unprecedented phase of sectarian violence in the Sunni-majority country.

The victims were celebrating Ashura, the most important holiday in the Shia calendar. The attack – disowned by the Taliban – was the deadliest in Afghanistan since 2008. Some Afghan officials and analysts immediately blamed Pakistan for the attack, saying insurgent groups based there wanted to foment unrest between Afghans.

"They [Pakistan] carried out this attack because they want to change the face of the war in Afghanistan, from an insurgency to a civil war," said Wahiullah Rahmani, the founder and director of the Kabul Centre for Strategic Studies. "They want Afghan people to fight each other. This is why they attacked the Shia people. The Pakistani people want to separate Afghan people and make them the enemies of each other."

Speaking in Bonn, where he had been attending an international conference on his country's future, President Hamid Karzai said it was "the first time that, on such an important religious day in Afghanistan, terrorism of that horrible nature is taking place". He cancelled a trip to the UK to head back to Kabul.

The blast in Kabul killed 55 people, including four children and two women, and injured 134 others, according to a statement released by the Kabul police. Outside the Emergency Hospital in Kabul's Shahr-e Naw commercial district, a mob of more than 300 people soon congregated, some offering to give blood, others desperately trying to find out whether their relatives were among the dead and injured that had been admitted. Many were in the black robes worn during the Ashura ceremony.

People fearfully examined a heap of bloody shoes and scarves matted with flesh that had been removed from victims and left outside the hospital's main gates. A child-sized green flip flop was on top of the heap.

An elderly woman clad in a black headscarf and long black cloak grabbed a pair of shoes she recognised and fell to the ground, wailing, as she clutched them to her chest.

The explosion, just before noon at the Abul Fazl shrine in the Murad Khane area of Kabul, was followed soon after by an explosion in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif that killed four people and injured 27 others.

Explosives were placed on a bicycle parked in Alikozai Square, about 400m from the Blue Mosque, and were detonated remotely, said the deputy provincial police chief, Abdul Rawuf Taj. It was intended to disrupt an Ashura procession. A second bomb was defused.

There was a third explosion in Kandahar, according to Zalmai Ayoubi, a spokesman for the provincial governor. There were no casualties in that attack.

The Taliban condemned the attack, saying it was "against Muslim laws and against humanity". In a statement, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, blamed the attack on "the foreigners or invaders", adding: "With those attacks, they want Afghan civilians to hate the Taliban more and more."

Haji Mohammed Mohaqiq, a leading Shia figure, appealed for calm among Afghans saying this was a time for unity. But he also warned the "enemies of peace and stability in Afghanistan" that the killings would be avenged.

"This attack is unacceptable," Haji Mohaqiq said. "We will respond to this enemy attack. We will not forget this attack. We will have our revenge on our enemies."

Asked who he thought was responsible for the violence, he answered: "It is obvious it is Pakistan; Pakistan is always trying to carry out violent attacks in Afghanistan." The Hazaras, who are Shia Muslims, were treated harshly under the Taliban regime and were not allowed to observe religious holidays such as yesterday's.

Since the hardline Sunni regime was ousted in 2001, sectarian attacks in Afghanistan have been rare. Such attacks, however, are common in Iraq and Pakistan.

The suicide bomb at the shrine produced the highest death toll in a single incident in Afghanistan since the blast at the Indian embassy in Kabul in 2008, which killed 60 people.

The site at the Abl Fazl shrine was sealed off by Afghan National Security Forces. Meanwhile a skirmish broke out between Sunni and Shia students at Balkh University in Mazar-e-Sharif.

Ashura: The most important day of the year

The festival of Ashura is the most important day of the year for Shia Muslims who use it to commemorate the martyrdom of the Prophet Mohammed's grandson, Hussein ibn Ali, in 680AD – one of the events that contributed to the split between Shia and Sunni denominations.

Although all Muslims celebrate the day with a voluntary fast, it is only Shia Muslims who spend it in prayer and re-enacting the events that led to Hussein's death.

About 15 percent of Afghans are Shia and until now there have been few incidents of sectarian violence in the country.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Property

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: KENT MARKET TOWN - An exciting new role has ar...

Financial Accountants, Cardiff, £250 p/day

£180 - £250 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Financial Accountants - Key Banking...

Regulatory Reporting-MI-Bank-Cardiff-£300/day

£200 - £500 per day + competitive: Orgtel: I am currently working on a large p...

Recruitment Consultant - Bristol - Computer Futures - £18-25k

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures are currently...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices