Afghanistan’s Bloody Tuesday

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On Tuesday, Dec. 6., rare sectarian attacks in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif killed at least 58 people, stunning Muslim celebrants of the Shiite religious festival of Ashura. Most of the casualties came from a suicide bomb detonated at a shrine in the Afghan capital, where 54 people have been reported killed thus far. A third attack was attempted in Kandahar but resulted in no fatalities. Responsibility was not immediately claimed for the attacks. 

The apparently sectarian nature of the attacks was new for Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai, in Berlin for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, called the explosions, "the first time that on such an important religious day in Afghanistan, terrorism of that horrible nature is taking place."

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Afghans run to and from the explosion in the Kabul city center. Hundreds of singing Shiite Muslims had gathered to mark the holy day of Ashura.

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Afghan policemen stand guard after the explosion in Kabul. The twin blasts at Afghan shrines ripped through crowds of worshippers, including children. The attack came a day after an international meeting in Bonn, Germany, meant to further efforts to end the Afghan war, 10 years after U.S.-led forces drove the Taliban from power.

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Grief-stricken Afghan men among the dead and wounded in the center of Kabul on Dec. 6.

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The blast came in the city center where Shiites had gathered to carry out religious rituals to mark Ashura, a public holiday in Afghanistan.

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A child cries, surrounded by the dead and wounded in Kabul.

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Shiites had gathered to begin annual Ashura processions to commemorate the death of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, along with his close relatives and supporters in the Battle of Karbala in modern-day Iraq in the year 680. During the annual festival of Ashura, culminating on the 10th day of Moharram when Hussain died, Shiites parade in major cities, beating their chests and whipping their backs with flails.

Above, a young Pakistani Shiite Muslim boy flagellates himself during a religious procession on the ninth day of holy Islamic month of Moharram in Islamabad on Dec. 5, 2011.

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Pakistani Shiite Muslims flagellate themselves during a religious procession on the ninth day of holy Islamic month of Moharram in Islamabad on Dec. 5. Pakistan stepped up security across the country in preparation for the festival.

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Turkish Shiite women hold a poster portraying Imam Hussein as they take part in a religious procession held for Ashura in Istanbul on Dec. 5. Tradition holds that the revered imam was decapitated and his body mutilated in the Battle of Karbala.

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A Pakistani Shiite Muslim mourner cleans blood-stained knives after performing religious rituals during an Ashura procession.

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Shiite Muslim men take part in self-flagellation rituals in the Iraqi holy city of Karbala on Dec. 5. 

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Pakistani Shiite Muslims flagellate themselves during a religious procession on the ninth day of holy Islamic month of Moharram in Lahore on Dec. 5.

 

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Turkish Shiite women take part in a religious procession held for Ashura in Istanbul on Dec. 5.

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Iraqi Shiites use knives in a self-flagellation ritual in Baghdad on Dec. 5 during Ashura commemorations.

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A bloodied Iraqi Shiite man smokes a cigarette during a self-flagellation ritual in Baghdad on Dec. 5.

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An Iraqi Shiite boy looks on as he holds a knife in a self-flagellation ritual in Baghdad.

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