TEHRAN, (AFP) – Millions of Iranians, beating themselves with fists and chains, marked the climax of Ashura on Thursday, a day after a suicide bomber killed 33 people taking part in a procession for Shiite Islam’s most revered mourning ritual.
Men, women and children dressed in black gathered in cities across Iran as the 10 days of rituals to mourn the death of Imam Hussein, the faith’s third imam, reached their peak.
A grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, Imam Hussein, was killed by armies of the caliph Yazid in 680 AD. Tradition holds that he was decapitated and his body mutilated in the battle at Karbala, now in Iraq.
Iranian state television carried live footage of the Ashura processions in the capital Tehran, the second city of Mashhad, the Shiite clerical centre of Qom and the smaller cities of Yazd, Bam and Ardebil.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended a gathering in south Tehran.
The commemorations came a day after a suicide bomber from Sunni militant group Jundallah killed 33 faithful taking part in an Ashura procession in the southeastern city of Chabahar.
The group says it is fighting for the rights of the region’s Sunni ethnic Baluchi community against the Shiite regime.
Last year’s Ashura processions were overshadowed by the killing in Tehran of eight opposition demonstrators trying to keep alive street protests against disputed official election results which gave Ahmadinejad a new term that June.
Shiites make up around 15 percent of Muslims worldwide. They represent the majority populations in Iran, Iraq and Bahrain and form significant communities in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.