The attack in Kabul and another in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif came a day after an international meeting in Germany meant to further efforts to end the Afghan war, 10 years after US-led forces drove the Taliban from power. At least 30 people including children were killed in the huge blast at the entrance to a riverside shrine in central Kabul, where hundreds of singing Shiite Muslims had gathered to mark Ashura, an AFP photographer saw.
A young girl, dressed in a green shalwar kameez that was smeared in blood, stood shrieking as she was surrounded by the crumpled, piled-up bodies of children. "I was there watching people mourning (for Ashura) when there was suddenly a huge explosion," witness Ahmad Fawad said.
"Some people around me fell down injured. I wasn't hurt, so I got up and started running. It was horrible," he said. Men and women at the scene sobbed as they surveyed the carnage, and screamed slogans denouncing al-Qaeda and the Taliban. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either blast.
Sectarian violence has been rare in Afghanistan but when the Sunni Taliban ruled in the 1990s, minority Shiites from the Hazara group suffered brutal persecution. Shiites beat and whip themselves in religious fervour during the 10-day Ashura ceremonies, which began on November 27 but peaked today. They mark the seventh-century killing of a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.