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Ashoura ceremonies tense with threat of violence

The Shiite month of mourning Muharram has reached its climax on the final day, known as Ashoura. While millions of Shiite Muslims peacefully observed the holy day, others were disrupted by violence.

Pakistani security officials are seen at the site of a remote control bomb blast targeting a Shi'ite Muslim mourning procession in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan, 25 November 2012. The bomb went off near an early morning Muharram procession in Commissionary Bazaar killing four and wounding at least 70. EPA/SAOOD REHMAN +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Bombe Anschlag Pakistan Schiiten

Millions of Shiite Muslims gathered in Karbala, Iraq on Sunday, to visit the shrine central to the observation of Ashoura. It marks the culmination of the 10-day Muharram month of mourning, which is held in remembrance of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad who was killed in the battle of Karbala in 680.

While the religious pilgrims in Iraq enjoyed a peaceful day of observance, an Ashoura procession in Pakistan was the target of a bomb blast on Sunday.

Five people were killed and at least 80 were injured in the blast on Dera Ismail Khan (pictured above), which is in northwest Pakistan. A spokesperson for the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in an interview with the AFP news agency. The spokesperson said the blast had been carried out by a suicide bomber, but a police spokesman said a bomb had been planted inside a shop.

Sunday's blast was the latest attack to target Shiite Muslims during Muharram. A bomb explosion in the same town on Saturday killed at least eight people, and at least 23 people were killed in a procession in Rawalpindi on Thursday. The Taliban claimed those blasts as well.

Extremist Sunni Muslims had warned that Shiites would be the targets of attacks during Muharram.

On Saturday, Shiite students attempting to conduct an Ashoura ritual at a university in the Afghan capital, Kabul, clashed with Sunni students, resulting in at least one death and around 30 injuries. In response, Afghanistan's higher education ministry announced that university classes would be postponed for ten days. AFP quoted a government spokesperson as saying that this was "a precautionary measure."

mz/msh (AFP, Reuters, AP)