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.

Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth gamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
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
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
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

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game