At least 54 people were killed and 160 wounded in twin sectarian attacks targeting Shiite Muslim followers in Afghanistan on Tuesday.
The first incident occurred as a suicide bomber struck crowds of worshipers at the well-known Abu Fazal shine in Kabul. The second blast occurred at around the same time in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, killing four people.
The attacks came a day after the international community convened in Bonn, Germany to discuss the future of Afghanistan and occurred on the most important holy day in the Shiite calendar, the festival of Ashura.
Muslims commemorate Ashura as a day of mourning for the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad. Ashura holds particular significance in Shiite Muslim tradition, as Shiite followers consider Husayn the third Imam and the rightful successor of Muhammad.
Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan make up around 20 percent of the population and a majority of Shiite Muslims are ethnic Hazaras. Attacks of the sectarian nature are a rarity in Afghanistan even though sectarian violence in prevalent in neighboring Pakistan.
Tuesday’s attacks marked the first sectarian attacks the country has witnessed in the decade since the fall of the Taliban.
During Taliban rule ethnic Hazaras were targeted and slaughtered, however, in recent years insurgents have diverted their attacks toward NATO and Afghan security forces.
“Afghanistan has been at war for 30 years and terrible things have happened, but one of the things that Afghans have been spared generally has been what appears to be this kind of very targeted sectarian attack,” Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network told Reuters.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the unprecedented attacks.
“This is the first time on such an important religious day there is terrorism of that horrible nature taking place,” Karzai said at a news conference in Berlin.
“We hope a quick recovery to those who are injured,” he added.
It is unclear who was behind the attack and the Taliban have strongly condemned the two attacks.
The insurgency group said in a statement that they regretted that innocent Afghans were killed in the “un-Islamic and inhuman” attack.