KABUL, Afghanistan -- A suicide bombing tore through a crowd of Shiite worshippers marking a holy day Tuesday in the Afghan capital, the deadliest of twin attacks that killed at least 20 people in a rare burst of violence targeting the minority Islamic sect.
The attacker blew himself up in the midst of a crowd of men, women and children gathered outside the Abul Fazl shrine to commemorate Ashoura, the anniversary of the death of the seventh century death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussein. Some men were beating themselves in mourning and food was being distributed.
Sayed Kabir Amiri, an official in charge of Kabul hospitals, said at least 16 people killed and more than 100 were wounded in Kabul.
A bomb strapped to a bicycle also exploded as a convoy of Afghan Shiites was driving down the road, shouting to commemorate Ashoura, in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Imam Hussein's death in a battle outside of Karbala sealed Islam's historical Sunni-Shiite split.
At least four were killed and 21 wounded in that attack, said Sakhi Kargar, a spokesman for the health ministry.
Although such attacks have become commonplace in neighboring Pakistan and parts of the Middle East such as Iraq, they have not occurred in Afghanistan. Shiites do not recall any of such magnitude in Afghanistan. At least At least 200 worshippers were around the shrine at the time of the blast.
Mohammad Bakir Shaikzada, the top Shiite cleric in Kabul, said that it was the first time that Shiites have been attacked in decades. He said he could not remember a similar attack having taken place,
"This is a crime against Muslims during the holy day of Ashoura. We Muslims will never forget these attacks. It is the enemy of the Muslims who are carrying them out," he said. He did not know who could have carried out such an attack.
Mustafa, a shopkeeper who witnessed the blast in Kabul, said he and his mother were delivering food to the worshippers. Two groups of 150 to 200 people from Kabul had just prayed at the shrine and left.
Another group of more than 100 from Logar province was entering when the explosion occurred. He said a suicide bomber at the end of the line of worshippers from Logar blew himself up near one of the gates to the shrine.
"It was very loud. My ears went deaf and I was blown 3 meters (yards)," said Mustafa, who uses only one name. "There was smoke and red blood on the floor of the shrine. There were people lying everywhere."
The shrine's loudspeaker continued to blast a recitation of the Quran as ambulances carried bodies and wounded away. Women stood outside the shrine wailing and holding crying children.
The mosque had been packed with worshippers and a large crowd that could not fit inside were gathered outside the building. The bomber walked into this crowd and detonated his explosives, said witness Mohammad Sharif.
The shrine is very close the palace of President Hamid Karzai, who is in Europe to attend an international conference on Afghanistan. It is named after Abul Fazl, who was an adviser to a 14th century Mogul emperor. The shrine and its blue minaret is one of Kabul's better known landmarks. It is located in Murad Khane area near the Kabul river, a district that has been listed by the World Monuments Fund as one of its 100 most endangered sites of cultural heritage.
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