KABUL, (Reuters) – Afghanistan said Sunday the death toll from bombings targeting the Shiite Muslim holy day of Ashura, which raised fears the nation could face an eruption of sectarian violence, has climbed to 80.
The coordinated attacks struck in Kabul and the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif on Tuesday as Shiites gathered to mark the holiest day in their calendar.
“The Ashura incident happened at a time that the people of Afghanistan were happy after a successful Bonn conference,” Karzai said during a speech in the capital, referring to the international meeting in Germany on his country’s future.
“Unfortunately the blast in Ashura martyred 80 people. The death toll has reached 80… It was either hitting our happiness or a wider policy is involved behind it.”
The twin blasts have prompted fears that Afghanistan could see the sort of sectarian violence that has pitched Shiite against Sunni Muslims in Iraq and Pakistan.
The Afghan state is already fragile, with different ethnic groups including Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks living together, sometimes uneasily, under one flag as a decade-long war rumbles on with no end in sight.
But US ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker told reporters Saturday he did not expect the attacks to spark a wave of sectarian violence in the country and Shiite leaders had called for calm.
Shiites make up roughly 20 percent of the population.
Karzai on Wednesday blamed Pakistani extremists for the unprecedented attack in Kabul, demanding justice from the government in Islamabad.
By pointing the finger at the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi militant group, Karzai threatened to ratchet up tensions with neighbouring Pakistan, which responded by calling for an end to the “blame game”.
The group’s purported claim of responsibility for the attack has not been confirmed independently.
Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are tense, and frequently spiral into mutual accusations over the violence plaguing both their countries.
Meanwhile the Taliban issued a fresh statement Sunday renewing their condemnation of the “inexplicable bombings” which they described as a “pre-planned plot of the defeated enemy”.
“Nobody should be allowed to reach their sinister goals by creating rifts and divisions amongst our united people on the basis of religion, race, language or region,” the statement said.
Initial death tolls were put at 55 in Kabul and another four in Mazar-i-Sharif.