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The worshippers were commemorating the seventh-century death of Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, in a procession called Ashoura.

Afghanistan’s Shiite community makes up about 20 percent of the nation’s 30 million population. Hard-line Sunnis consider Shiites nonbelievers because their customs and traditions differ from the majority sect but Afghans have long divided themselves more by ethnic group than by religion.

Most attacks in Afghanistan are aimed at the government, international forces or those believed to be collaborating with them. These attacks have been more indiscriminate in recent years, with civilians regularly becoming the victims.

Underscoring that trend, 19 people, including five children, were killed and six others wounded when a roadside bomb struck a minibus in Helmand’s volatile Sangin district — a Taliban stronghold, provincial spokesman Daoud Ahmadi said.

Back in Kabul, families gathered for funerals across the capital. In western Kabul, a group of mourners carried four bodies in a funeral procession through the city’s largest Shiite cemetery. They carried pictures of the dead and shouted, “They are martyrs! We honor them!”

One of the mourners said no place felt safe anymore.

“Killing Muslims in front of a holy shrine, it is unbelievable,” said Mohammad Nahim, 35. “Last night I told my children not to visit any shrines after dark. It is too dangerous.” He said the graphic images of piled bodies came on the television as his family was eating dinner the night before and they all started crying.

“The man who owned the shop on my street corner, the man I bought vegetables from, he was killed in the attack,” Nahim said.

A member of the city’s Shiite council, meanwhile, said the attack showed no one can count on the government for protection.

“There have been so many attacks, even against government officials, and still they can’t stop these things,” said Mohaqeq Zada.

Nearly all the dead in Kabul were Shiites, though from a number of different ethnic groups. U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Megan Ellis said the American who died was not a government employee but would not give further details.


Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez in Kabul, Mirwais Khan in Kandahar and Kathy Gannon in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.