A suicide bomb detonated today in the midst of a crowd of Shiite worshipers in Kabul has left about 50 people dead. NPR's Quil Lawrence reports from there that witnesses say dozens of bodies were scattered around the gate of a mosque.
Al-Jazeera says the Afghan ministry of health reports more than 100 people were injured.
Another four people were reportedly killed and more were injured in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif by a similar attack. Al-Jazeera adds that:
"The blasts occurred as Shias gathered to carry out religious rituals to mark one of the most significant days in their calendar. Ashoura, a public holiday in Afghanistan, is the Shia day of mourning commemorating the martyrdom of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed."
Afghanistan is a predominantly Sunni Muslim nation. The Associated Press calls today's attacks "an unprecedented wave of violence against the minority Islamic sect in Afghanistan. ... Religiously motivated attacks on Shiites are rare in Afghanistan although they are common in neighboring Pakistan. No group claimed responsibility for Tuesday's blasts, reminiscent of the wave of sectarian attacks that shook Iraq during the height of the war there."
The BBC notes that "though tensions exist between Afghanistan's Sunni and minority Shia Muslims, most attacks in Afghanistan in recent years have targeted government officials or international forces."
The Guardian writes of the Kabul blast that "one witness, Rohullah, 21, who saw the explosion from a nearby rooftop, said it had sent bodies and limbs flying into the air. ... Stunned and tearful locals milled around the scene of the attack as loudspeakers still played recorded verses of the Qur'an."
Witnesses say the Kabul blast was set off by a man wearing a backpack apparently filled with explosives. In Mazar-i-Sharif, the AP says, it's thought that the bomb was "strapped to a bicycle" and exploded as a convoy of vehicles carrying Shiites passed by.
Update at 2:30 p.m. ET. Karzai Flies Home; No Claim Of Responsibility Yet:
The BBC reports that Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was in Germany, is canceling a visit to the U.K. in order to return to Kabul. And it adds that:
"No-one had claimed to have carried out the attacks, said Mohammad Zahir, head of Kabul's criminal investigation department. A Taliban statement said the group had not been behind either incident."