Suicide blast on Shiite holy day kills 55

An Afghan man is comforted by relatives outside of a hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. A suicide bomber struck a crowd of Shiite worshippers Tuesday. (Associated Press)
An Afghan man is comforted by relatives outside of a hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. A suicide bomber struck a crowd of Shiite worshippers Tuesday. (Associated Press)

Afghanistan attacks elsewhere kill four

KABUL, Afghanistan – At least 55 people were killed and scores wounded Tuesday in a suicide attack that targeted Shiite Muslim worshippers in Kabul, raising the specter of sectarian violence even as the United States searches for a way out of the Afghan war.

The strike, reportedly carried out by an obscure Pakistani extremist group with ties to the Taliban, was the first major attack on Afghanistan’s Shiite minority of the decade-long war.

It occurred on Ashoura, the holiest day of the Shiite calendar, as worshippers were commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad, in the seventh century.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Almi, a breakaway faction of the well-known Pakistani militant outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, claimed responsibility in a phone call to Radio Mashaal, a Pashto-language station set up by Radio Free Europe. Pashto is spoken in northwest Pakistan and southern Afghanistan, and it’s the language of the Taliban.

The faction, which isn’t thought to have attacked in Afghanistan before, previously was known for kidnapping two former Pakistani spies and a British journalist in Pakistan’s tribal area. The spies, including Col. Imam, known as the godfather of the Taliban, later were killed.

Afghanistan’s Shiites are mostly members of the Hazara ethnic minority, which suffered brutal discrimination at the hands of the Taliban government that ruled the country before the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. The attacks came as representatives from the United States and some 90 other nations and organizations concluded a meeting in Germany about the transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces, which are due to take full control of the country by 2014.

“An attack against Ashoura pilgrims on one of the holiest of days in the Islamic calendar is an attack against Islam itself, and we denounce and condemn these atrocities in the strongest of terms,” said Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of the U.S.-led coalition, known as the International Security Assistance Force.

The Taliban also condemned the blast in a statement, saying, “This is part of a plot by the enemies of Islam and Afghanistan.”

Two other bombs struck shortly after the Kabul attack. A bomb on a bicycle exploded in the usually peaceful northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, killing four civilians and wounding 16, according to Afghan officials. Six people were wounded in the southern city of Kandahar when a bomb in a motorbike went off.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the blasts were coordinated.

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