REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- Bomb blasts targeting Shiite Muslim gatherings in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif killed at least 58 people and injured more than 180 others on Tuesday, a rare outbreak of sectarian violence in a country wracked by 10 years of war with Taliban insurgents.
The attacks occurred on the Shiite Muslim holy day of Ashura, which commemorates the anniversary of the 7th century martyrdom of Imam Hussain, grandson of the prophet Muhammad. The blast in the capital involved a suicide bomber who slipped into a throng of Shiite worshipers outside the Abul Fazal Abbas shrine, said Mohammed Zahir, a top Kabul police official.
That attack killed at least 54 people and injured 160 others, Zahir said.
Witnesses outside the shrine in Kabul said dead bodies and limbs were strewn all over the street. A steady stream of ambulances and police cars rushed the injured to nearby hospitals. Many of the victims were women and children.
"I was about to go to the shrine, but then I heard a big explosion about 10 meters away," said Allah Mohammad, 25. "As people rushed, I fell down, and after a few minutes stood up again to look for two of my friends who were with me. I saw more than 25 dead bodies on the ground."
At about the same time in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, a homemade bomb detonated near a gathering of Shiite Muslims, killing at least four people and injuring 27 others.
Afghanistan's Muslim population is majority Sunni -- about 15% of Afghanistan's population is Shiite. But sectarian violence is rare. Sectarian attacks are more common in neighboring Pakistan, where Sunni extremist organizations routinely carry out terror strikes against Shiite Muslims, who they regard as heretics.
-- Hashmat Baktash in Kabul and Alex Rodriguez in Islamabad, Pakistan