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IS claims responsibility for bomb attack that killed 14 in Afghanistan

'Islamic State' group's affiliate in Afghanistan has claimed responsibility for a bomb attack that killed 14 people at a mosque in northern Afghanistan. The attack was the second in two days of the festival of Ashura.

The blast killed at least 14 people during the Ashura ceremony in Afghanistan's northern province of Balkh on Wednesday, a government spokesman said.

"The explosion happened at the gate of the Shiite mosque in the centre of Balkh district (in Balkh province)," according to the provincial governor's spokesman Munir Ahmad Farhad, who added that 28 people had also been injured.

"The attack has nothing to with us, we are deeply affected by attack on civilians," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted. According to Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi, the assailant opened fire on worshippers at the shrine as they prayed. He was later shot dead.

Afghanistan Ashura Festival in Kabul

Afghanistan Ashura Festival in Kabul

The "Islamic State" (IS) also claimed responsibility for the twin attacks in the capital, Kabul, on Tuesday, killing up to 18 people and wounding dozens.

Gunmen entered the Karte Sakhi shrine near Kabul University late on Tuesday, firing at men, women and children as they fleed, witnesses said. The interior ministry said in statement that one of the men was wearing a suicide vest.

Another attacker entered a nearby mosque and took a number of people hostage as they were commemorating Ashura, the ministry said.

'Cowardly' atrocity

President Ashraf Ghani condemned as a "clear sign of a crime against humanity."

White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the attacks were "cowardly" and "clearly designed to stoke sectarian tension" in the country. State Department spokesman John Kirby also condemned the violence. The UN called the attack an "atrocity" and put the toll at 18, though the interior ministry later said it was 16.

"We commend the government and security forces of Afghanistan for their response to these attacks and their commitment to the peace, security, and prosperity of their country and a future for Afghanistan free of sectarian violence," he said.

Sectarian attacks have been relatively rare in Afghanistan, unlike neighboring Pakistan where violence - particularly by Sunni hardliners against the Shiite minority - has claimed thousands of lives over the past decade.

Ashura commemorates the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who was assassinated in 680 and whose death laid the foundation for the faith practised by the Shiite community. For Shiites around the world, Ashura is a symbol of the struggle against oppression.

During Ashura in 2011, attacks in Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif and Kandahar left at least 80 people dead.

jbh (AFP, dpa)

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