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Shi’ite holy day is marred by attacks

Two die in Iraq as saint is mourned

By Zeina Karam
Associated Press / December 17, 2010

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BEIRUT — Shi’ites across the Muslim world commemorated their most somber day of the year yesterday with solemn processions in which some beat their chests or cut themselves with swords and chains to mourn the death some 1,300 years ago of one of their most beloved saints.

Bombings in Iraq targeted Shi’ite pilgrims, killing two as they walked to holy sites. In Pakistan, 16 people were wounded, two critically, when an assailant threw an explosive device at a Shi’ite procession.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah leader Hassan Narsallah used an address marking the occasion, called Ashoura, to call for armed resistance against Israel and unity between Shi’ites and Sunnis.

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai urged insurgents to embrace peace.

Ashoura is being observed amid tensions between Islam’s rival Sunni and Shi’ite sects.

Two suicide bombings Wednesday blamed on a radical Sunni group killed at least 39 people at a ceremony marking Ashoura near a Shi’ite mosque in southeastern Iran. The group — Jundallah, or Soldiers of God — claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on its website.

Security was tight yesterday at Ashoura commemorations in Sunni-majority Pakistan, where a long-running sectarian conflict has gained traction in recent years because of the Sunni Taliban insurgency.

Shi’ite Muslim processions in major cities have sometimes been attacked by bombers.

To mark Ashoura, Shi’ites march in massive processions, beating their chests in mourning for the 680 AD martyrdom at Karbala, in present-day Iraq, of Imam Hussein, one of the sect’s most beloved saints and a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

Some Shi’ites cut themselves with swords or razors or lash their backs with razor-lined chains to draw blood, rituals that reflect the sect’s immersion in a narrative of mourning, martyrdom, and suffering.

Police were out in force in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. As in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, people who wanted to join the main procession in the city of Karachi had to undergo body searches.

Thousands of people joined in, hoisting flags and banners as they mourned Hussein.

Authorities in Pakistan are on high alert for attacks on Shi’ites. But an assailant in the city of Peshawar near the Afghan border wounded 16 pilgrims when he threw an explosive device on a Shi’ite procession.

Iraqi Shi’ites did not make their customary annual pilgrimage to a holy shrine in southern Jordan this year, amid rising Sunni-Shi’ite Muslim tensions in the Arab world.

In Iraq, bombings in Baghdad and a small town to the north killed two pilgrims and wounded nine who were headed to ceremonies in Karbala, home of Imam Hussein’s shrine.

The killed and wounded were among hundreds of thousands who headed to Karbala to mark Ashoura.

Security forces created three layers of checkpoints outside the gold-domed Imam Hussein shrine in the city’s center to protect the pilgrims expected to converge there by Ashoura’s peak this morning.

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