- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 7, 2011

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai confronted Pakistan on Wednesday, saying a militant group based there was behind a suicide bombing at a Shiite shrine in Kabul that killed 56 people during commemorations of a holy day.

Already under U.S. pressure to do more to battle extremism, Pakistan countered by demanding that Karzai provide evidence to back up his claim.

“We do not discuss such matters through media,” Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said, adding that Pakistan would encourage Kabul to share any evidence it has that the group in Pakistan was responsible.

The attack was Afghanistan’s first major sectarian assault since the fall of the Taliban regime a decade ago. It raised fears the conflict is taking a dangerous new turn with some militant groups targeting ethnic minorities such as the Hazara, who are largely Shiite and support the Afghan government and its Western partners.

A man claiming to be from Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami, a Pakistan-based splinter group of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi that has carried out attacks against Shiite Muslims in Pakistan, has called various media outlets to claim responsibility for the Kabul bombing.

Afghans shout slogans during a funeral for a victim of Tuesday's suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011. (AP Photo/Ahmad Jamshid)
Afghans shout slogans during a funeral for a victim of Tuesday’s suicide ... more >

Karzai said he believed this claim, although he did not elaborate.

“We are investigating this issue and we are going to talk to the Pakistani government about it,” Karzai told reporters as he visited a hospital where scores of people who had been wounded in the attack were being treated. He said the attack was not just an act of hate against Muslims, but against mankind. An American citizen was among those killed.

Afghanistan cannot ignore the blood of all the victims of this incident, especially the children,” Karzai said. The president cut short a European trip and returned to Kabul Wednesday morning because of the attack.

The Afghan leader has become increasingly bold in recent months in his criticism of Pakistan, which has a long history of backing insurgents in Afghanistan and trying to influence Afghan affairs from across the border. His stepped-up accusations come at the same time that U.S. relations with Pakistan have become increasingly antagonistic.

The Taliban condemned the attack.

Pakistani military spokesman Gen. Athar Abbas dismissed any suggestions that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has links to the country’s intelligence agencies or that the government was not doing everything it could to quash the group.

“Lashkar-e-Janghvi has declared war on the security forces in Pakistan,” he told The Associated Press in an interview. He said the group has been implicated in some of the worst attacks on Pakistani security forces.

“They are being hunted down,” he stressed.

Basit noted that the umbrella group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was banned in Pakistan.

The bombing at the shrine in Kabul and a second attack against a Shiite vehicle procession in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif that killed four people have raised worries that an already violence-wracked country might be on the verge of dipping into a divisive religious conflict as well.

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