In Afghanistan, Dozens Dead After Suicide Bombings

In Afghanistan, dozens died in bombings in Kabul and the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. The attacks targeted processions by Shiite Muslims on a major holy day.

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LYNN NEARY, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Lynn Neary.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Two deadly bombings in Afghanistan today killed 58 people and wounded at least 130. Violence has been sporadic across Afghanistan, but today's attacks have a chilling distinction. They targeted pilgrims on the Shiite holy day of Ashura. Sectarian fighting has brought horrific violence to Iraq and Pakistan. And as NPR's Quil Lawrence reports from Kabul, Afghanistan had largely avoided it until now.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Ashura isn't a holiday as much as a commemoration. Shiites mourn the death of the prophet Mohammed's grandson, Hussein, one of the founding martyrs of Shiite Islam. After years of being marginalized, Afghanistan's Shiite minority has been marking holidays in a more and more public way. For the past several days, volunteers in black tents all across Kabul and other Afghan cities handed out food and drinks to Shiite pilgrims and anyone else who asked. Today, hundreds of pilgrims converged on a Shiite shrine in the center of Kabul.

A bomber walked among them.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIRENS)

LAWRENCE: Authorities say the bomber may have entered the city with a group from Logar province, just south of the capitol, where the Taliban and other insurgent groups hold territory. At 12:00 noon local time, surrounded by men, women and children, the bomber detonated his vest.

ALLAH MOHAMMED: (Speaking foreign language)

LAWRENCE: Allah Mohammed(ph), a 25-year-old witness, says he was standing about 30 feet away, heading for the shrine when he heard the explosion. He was knocked to the ground as survivors fled the scene.

MOHAMMED: (Speaking foreign language)

LAWRENCE: When Mohammed got up, he saw bodies all around - men, women and children, some missing limbs. Most of Afghanistan's Shiite minority are ethnic Hazaras. During the civil war in the 1990s and throughout the Taliban government, Hazaras often faced repression and ethnic killings on a large scale. But in the past 10 years, insurgent groups have not targeted Shiites until today. About the same time as the Kabul attack, a bomber struck in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, killing four pilgrims with a bomb carried on a bicycle.

Several hours after the attack, an official spokesman for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid, denied responsibility, calling the murders inhumane. But it's not always clear how much command and control is held by the Taliban leadership believed to be sheltering in Pakistan. At the scene of the attack in Kabul, sorrow turned quickly into rage. Survivors began shouting slogans against the Taliban, but also against the weak Afghan state and President Hamid Karzai. Along with that anger comes the fear that sectarian violence, which has been promoted by extremists like the Taliban and al-Qaida, may have arrived in Afghanistan, as America and the West are discussing how to withdraw troops by 2014. Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Kabul.

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