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Shiites mark day of grief amid sectarian strife

Mourn saint with bloody processions

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

Bombings in Iraq targeted Shiite 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 Shiite procession.

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

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

This year's Ashoura comes amid tensions between Islam's rival Sunni and Shiite sects.

Two suicide bombings Wednesday blamed on a radical Sunni group killed at least 39 people at a ceremony marking Ashoura near a Shiite 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 Thursday 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. Shiite Muslim processions in major cities have at times been attacked by bombers.

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

The most devout of Shiites 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 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 Shiites marking Ashoura, but an assailant in the city of Peshawar, near the Afghan border, wounded 16 pilgrims when he threw an explosive device on a Shiite procession.

Iraqi Shiites did not make their customary annual pilgrimage to a holy shrine in southern Jordan this year amid rising Sunni-Shiite Muslim tensions in the Arab world.

Hundreds of Shiites from Iraq and Iran usually visit the shrine of Jaafar bin Abi Taleb, one of Prophet Muhammad's companions, in Jordan's southern town of Mazar to mark Ashoura.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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