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.

News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
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
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
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
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

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?