Kabul suicide bomb kills at least 55

 

AT LEAST 55 people have been killed in a suicide bombing at a crowded Kabul shrine on one of the most important days in the Shia calendar, raising fears that radical insurgent groups are attempting to unleash a sectarian war in Afghanistan.

About 150 people were wounded when the bomb exploded amid a throng of worshippers, including women and children, who were hemmed in on a street between the Abul Fazl shrine and the Kabul river.

A second bomb, which killed four people in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, also targeted pilgrims heading to a commemoration of the holy festival of Ashura.

A policeman who witnessed the Kabul attack said the suicide bomber worked his way into the centre of a crowd that had gathered to watch young men engaged in ritual flagellation to mourn the death in the seventh century of Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

“I saw bodies and limbs fly up into the air,” said Rohullah, another witness who was standing on a rooftop overlooking the procession of worshippers.

Terrified survivors streamed away from the blast, leaving behind a horrific scene of carnage. Dozens of bodies, including those of women and children, lay scattered around a dark patch on the road where the bomb exploded.

A Pakistani militant group with close ties to al-Qaeda said it carried out the attack, although security sources could not confirm the group’s involvement.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami claimed responsibility in a phonecall to Radio Mashaal, a Pashto-language radio station set up by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The Taliban were quick to condemn the bombing, which was the bloodiest single incident for Afghan civilians since 2008.

Shia Muslims, who make up about 20 per cent of the population, and other minorities suffered during the years when the hardline Sunni movement was in power. But in recent times the Taliban have tried to portray themselves as a force for national unity.

In an e-mailed statement, the movement described the attacks as “un-Islamic” and laid the blame with the “invading enemy”, one of the terms they use to describe the US-led Nato force in Afghanistan.

They alleged foreigners were trying to foment unrest in order to extend the length of their stay in the country.

The Taliban have stretched credulity in the past by denying responsibility for attacks that have killed large numbers of civilians and outraged public opinion. But Martine van Bijlert, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, said this time the denial “seems plausible”.

“It doesn’t fit with what they have done in the past, unless it turns out that they, or a group or them, have quite fundamentally changed,” she said.

Immediately after the blast in Kabul, scores of armed policemen rushed to the scene, throwing up a security cordon round the historic neighbourhood or Murad Khani, which is close to several government ministries.

Stunned and tearful locals milled around the scene of the attack as loudspeakers still played recorded verses of the Koran. Furious young men stalked around the area of the bombing shouting at police and foreign journalists.

People worried about missing relatives ran down traffic-free streets to get to the scene, while others crowded around a nearby hospital run by the Italian organisation Emergency.

Many of the worshippers at the shrine in Kabul were Hazaras, a mostly Shia ethnic minority which was persecuted by the Taliban regime.

Shortly after the attack in Kabul, a bomb carried on a bicycle exploded not far from the famous Blue Mosque in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Zahir Wahdat, the deputy governor of Balkh province, said four people had been killed and about five wounded. – (Guardian service)