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Afghanistan Explosion Kabul Mazar-i-Sharif Shia Taliban

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Kabul's deadliest blast in three years leaves 54 dead

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Reuters/Najibullah Musafer

At least 58 people died when twin blasts ripped through Afghan shrines on the Shiite holy day of Ashura on Tuesday. A massive suicide attack in Kabul targeted a crowd of worshippers at a riverside shrine killing 54 people alone in the deadliest strike on the city in three years.

 


The second attack took place in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Both come a day after an international meeting in Germany aimed at charting a course for Afghanistan 10 years after US-led forces drove the Taliban from power.

Pakistan and the Taliban - both seen as pivotal to ending Afghanistan's long war - boycotted the talks, undermining already modest hopes for progress.

Nato has condemned the attacks while the Taliban did not claim responsibility and instead denounced them as "inhumane" and blamed the bloodshed on the "invading enemy".

Dossier: AfPak news and analysis

The Shia Muslim festival of Ashura is the most important day in the Shia calendar and a public holiday in Afghanistan.

When the Sunni Taliban ruled in the 1990s, minority Shiites from the Hazara group suffered brutal persecution, but in recent years sectarian violence has been rare and the Kabul blast is thought to be the worst attack of its kind.

Kabul has been hit by an increasing number of spectacular attacks in 2011, including the September assassination of former president and peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani at his home, which hit hard any hopes for Taliban reconciliation.

On Monday, at least 28 people were killed and 78 wounded in a wave of bomb attacks in central Iraq against Shiite pilgrims making their way to Karbala.

There are around 140,000 international forces in Afghanistan, most from the United States, fighting the Taliban-led insurgency.