Last Updated: Sun Oct 17, 2010 02:09 am (KSA) 23:09 pm (GMT)

Blood and violence as Shiites mark Ashura

Ashura is when Shiites commemorate the death of the Prophet Muhammad's nephew
Ashura is when Shiites commemorate the death of the Prophet Muhammad's nephew

Millions of Shiites in Iraq and Pakistan on Sunday joined ceremonies marking the climax of solemn Ashura rituals, marred by a bomb attacks on processions and prayer halls, killing five people Iraq’s Kirkuk.

Around three million people thronged the streets of the shrine city of Karbala in central Iraq for the main rituals commemorating the slaying of the revered Imam Hussein by the armies of the Sunni caliph Yazid in 680, according to provincial deputy governor Nasaeef Jassim.

 Over the past 10 days, we have received around six million visitors who have come from all over Iraq, some coming by foot 
Provincial deputy governor Nasaeef Jassim

"Over the past 10 days, we have received around six million visitors who have come from all over Iraq, some coming by foot," Jassim said, adding that at least half of these had stayed for Sunday's climax of the annual event.

He added that among the pilgrims on Sunday were some 105,000 worshippers from foreign countries, mostly from the Gulf but also including Pakistan, Canada and Tanzania.

Karbala police chief General Ali Jassim Mohammed had earlier in the week announced the deployment of around 25,000 policemen and soldiers to secure the commemoration ceremonies.

Violence elsewhere in the country, however, took the gloss off the largely peaceful Karbala pilgrimage, which in recent years has been attacked by Sunni insurgents and disrupted by intra-Shiite fighting.

Police said that early on Sunday a bomb ripped through a procession marking Ashura in the northern town of Tuz Khurmatu, near oil-rich Kirkuk, killing five people and wounding 27, including five women and a policeman.

Pakistan

 Paramilitary personal have also been deployed and the army will remain on standby 
Police spokesman Naeem Iqbal

In Pakistan, a suspected suicide bomber blew himself up on Sunday outside a Shiite Muslim prayer hall in the main city in the Pakistani part of the disputed Kashmir region, witnesses said.

The blast went off at the end of a procession for Ashura, the Shiite calendar's biggest event. One witness said he saw body parts on the street believed to be those of the suicide bomber.

Police officer Mohammad Khursheed said there had been casualties but he had no details.

The government deployed tens of thousands of police and paramilitary forces in the capital Islamabad and major cities, with soldiers on standby and hundreds of ambulances accompanying Shiite processions, officials said.

Ashura rituals, which end Monday in Pakistan, see faithful in black march through the streets, flailing themselves with chains to commemorate the killing of Imam Hussein by armies of the Sunni caliph Yazid in 680.

"Security in Islamabad has been put on high alert," police spokesman Naeem Iqbal told AFP.

"Processions will be covered with security cameras and scanners have already been installed at the main gates of (Shiite mosque) Imambargah," he added.

"Paramilitary personal have also been deployed and the army will remain on standby," he added.

In Lahore, Pakistan's most liberal city hit by a rising number of suicide and gun attacks, police patrolled roads and guarded roof tops.

Militant attacks have killed more than 2,700 people since July 2007 and Washington is pressuring Pakistan to do more to crack down on al-Qaeda and stop insurgents crossing the border to attack Western troops in Afghanistan.

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