At least 48 killed, 100 wounded in Kabul attack

Sectarian tension grows in Afghanistan as bomb explodes near Shi'ite shrine; attack could set "grim new precedent."

Afghanistan bomb explosion 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed)
Afghanistan bomb explosion 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed)
KABUL - A suicide bomber attacked a Shi'ite Muslim shrine in central Kabul on Tuesday where a crowd of hundreds had gathered for the Shi'ite festival of Ashura, killing at least 30 people and injuring dozens more in an unprecedented sectarian attack.
Doctors and police were struggling to count the dead from one of the bloodiest attacks on Kabul's civilians since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001.
RELATED:Afghanistan: Protesters want US troops outAfghan woman, jailed for being raped, wins pardon
It was a potent reminder of Afghanistan's troubles the day after its Western allies pledged long-term support, even after their combat troops leave at the end of 2014.
"Victims have been transferred to many hospitals, but around 30 people have been killed, the number will rise," said Hashmatullah Stanikzai, spokesman for Kabul's Police Chief.
Sakhi Kargar, a spokesman for the ministry of public health, said 67 people had been injured.
Afghanistan has a history of tension and violence between Sunnis and the Shi'ite minority, but since the fall of the Taliban the country had been spared the large scale sectarian attacks that have troubled neighboring Pakistan.
The noon bomb in a riverside shrine, in the heart of old Kabul, appears to set a grim new precedent.
"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," said Kate Clark, from the Afghanistan Analysts Network.
"We don't know who planted the bomb yet and it is dangerous to jump to conclusions but if it was Taliban, it marks something really serious, and dangerous, and very troubling."
Shortly after, a bicycle bomb exploded near the main mosque in northern Mazar-i-Sharif city, killing four and injuring 17 others. The city's streets were filled with people celebrating Ashura, but it was not immediately clear if that attack was targeting Shi'ite worshipers.
A motorbike bomb in southern Kandahar city also injured three civilians, but it had not been placed near any mosques or shrines, and appeared unrelated to the Kabul attacks.
Taliban spokesmen could not immediately be reached for comment on any of the attacks.
The Shi'ite Muslim festival of Ashura marks the martyrdom of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson Hussein in the battle of Karbala in Iraq in the year 680.
Ashura is the biggest event in the Shi'ite Muslim calendar, when large processions are vulnerable to militant attacks, including suicide bombings. Pakistan has deployed tens of thousands of paramilitary soldiers and police during Ashura.
Blood has spilled between Pakistan's majority Sunni and minority Shi'ite militants for decades.
Sectarian strife has intensified since Sunni militants deepened ties with al Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban insurgents after Pakistan joined the US-led campaign against militancy after the Sept. 11 attacks.