PRAGUE, 9 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Doctors say at least five people were killed in the western city of Herat today in sectarian violence between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims.
The clashes occurred at a temporary camp set up in Herat by Shi'ites celebrating the Islamic holiday of Ashura. RFE/RL's correspondent in Herat reports that the deaths occurred when hand grenades were thrown and gunfire was exchanged at the gathering.
"Herat Province, unfortunately, has been a witness for some time to activities by illegal groups.... And, unfortunately, they are supported from outside of Afghanistan. I can say directly that they receive orders from outside of Afghanistan and that they are controlled, guided, and organized from abroad."
Hundreds of Afghan security troops were deployed across the city early this afternoon in an attempt to keep the violence under control.
The governor of Herat Province, Sayed Hussain Anwari, tells RFE/RL that the violence was provoked by a group of Sunni Muslims who entered the Jami Mosque in the city center and accused Shi'ites of insulting the historic Sunni leader, Hazrati Omari Faruq.
"Unfortunately today, a group of people entered the Jami Mosque," he said. "They entered the mosque and were shouting things -- saying that some Shi'ite people from Herat have been insulting Hazrati Omari Faruq. In fact, this is a lie. This is a provocation."
Anwari says the Afghan Interior Ministry and Afghan intelligence agents are investigating whether the violence may have been instigated by foreigners from neighboring countries like Pakistan or Iran.
"This was organized by irresponsible groups in Herat. There may be foreign involvement behind all of this and that possibility is being investigated. But we know those responsible are the servants of the enemies of Afghanistan. And they are trying to divide Muslims and pit them against each other."
Ahmed Behzad, a member of Afghanistan's lower chamber of parliament from Herat, tells RFE/RL he also thinks the instigators of the 8 February violence receive support from neighboring countries.
"Herat Province, unfortunately, has been a witness for some time to activities by illegal groups -- groups that are still keeping their weapons," he said. "And, unfortunately, they are supported from outside of Afghanistan. I can say directly that they receive orders from outside of Afghanistan and that they are controlled, guided, and organized from abroad."
Sharaf Uldin Stanikzai, RFE/RL's correspondent in Herat, reports seeing Shi'ite Muslims carrying out retaliatory attacks against Sunni Muslims by early on 8 February.
"Angry Shi'a demonstrators have come and attacked the car of a Sunni who was trying to take two injured Sunnis to the hospital," he said. "They are smashing the car windows and mirrors and standing on top of the car. You can hear the sound of this attack now."
Stanikzai says his car and that of a reporter from Voice Of America also were attacked by the angry Shi'ites. Both reporters escaped without injuries.
Sayed Ahmad Alemi, a doctor at Herat's main hospital, says the bodies of at least five people killed in the clashes were brought to his facility. Alemi says at least 27 injured people also were taken to Herat's main hospital.
(RFE/RL's Afghan Service correspondents Sharaf Uldin Stanikzai in Herat, and Freshta Jalalazai and Sami Abass in Prague contributed to this report.)