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Deadly Attacks Target Shi'a In Afghanistan

  • RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan

Two separate attacks targeting members of Afghanistan's Shi'ite minority during Ashura commemorations have left several dozen people dead and scores wounded.

In the latest attack, at least 14 people were killed on October 12 in a bomb attack outside a mosque in the northern province of Balkh.

The attack came less than 24 hours after the Islamic State (IS) extremist group claimed responsibility for an attack on a shrine in the capital, Kabul, that killed 19 people and left dozens wounded.

The attacks came during Ashura, a religious day of mourning and one of the holiest on the Shi'ite calendar, raising fears of sectarian violence after a string of attacks on the country's Shi'ite minority.

Afghan officials said the bomb blast in Balkh, which wounded at least 30 people, targeted Shi'ite mourners who were leaving a mosque.

The bomb was planted outside the mosque in the Khoja Gholak area of Balkh Province and detonated remotely, a provincial spokesman told RFE/RL.

Local health officials said most of the wounded were children. Some of the injured were in critical condition, doctors said.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack on October 12.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan condemned both attacks.

"These attacks on worshippers are truly abhorrent" said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan. "The extremists behind this emerging pattern of sectarian violence will not succeed in reversing Afghan traditions of religious and ethnic tolerance."

Wounded arrive at a hospital in Balkh.

Wounded arrive at a hospital in Balkh.

Kabul Attack

A day earlier, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of Shi'ite mourners who had gathered at the Karte Sakhi Shrine, one of the largest in Kabul.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said 62 people, including 12 police, were wounded in the attack on the shrine.

The IS group, via its Aamaq media outlet, said an IS "commando" had opened fire on mourners in Kabul before blowing himself up using an explosive jacket.

Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah said the Kabul attack on civilians amounted to "a war crime and human rights violation."

"People were gathered inside the shrine for worshipping when the attackers arrived," an eyewitness, who did not reveal his or her name, told Reuters. "First they shot the policemen at the gate of the shrine and then they entered the compound."

Another eyewitness described what he said was a "horrific situation."

"Everyone was trying to escape," the eyewitness said. "Many people were shot in their legs and many others in their hands and bodies."

The mourning for Ashura reached its peak on October 12.

Afghan police had warned Shi'a -- mostly ethnic Hazara -- against large gatherings as attacks were expected.

Ashura commemorates the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who was killed in 680 and whose death laid the foundation for the Shi'ite faith.

For Shi'ite Muslims around the world, Ashura is a symbol of the struggle against oppression.

In July, an attack claimed by IS extremists killed 84 people, many of them Shi'a from the ethnic Hazara minority.

In 2011, 54 people were killed when a suicide bomber attacked another Kabul shrine where hundreds of people had gathered. A Shi'ite mosque in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif was also hit the same day, leaving four dead.

With reporting by AP and AFP
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