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And I'm Linda Wertheimer.
There've been multiple bombings in Afghanistan today. In Kabul, a suicide-bomber has killed dozens of people at a procession marking the Muslim Shiite holiday of Ashura. Suicide attacks in Kabul have been sporadic. But today's incident is particularly disturbing because it appears to be a sectarian attack; something that Afghanistan had previously escaped, even amid the terrible violence of recent decades. This attack happened around midday, local time.
Joining us live from Kabul with the latest is NPR's Quil Lawrence.
Quil, what can you tell us?
QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: It was around noon, local time. Eyewitnesses say a suicide bomber had insinuated himself into a crowd of pilgrims who were coming possibly from the province of Logar, south of Kabul. And they detonated his vest when they approached a Shiite shrine right in the center of the city. Witnesses said that they saw scattered debris and piles of bodies where about 30 feet out around from the entrance to the shrine.
There was also another bomb around the same time in the northern city of Mazar-e- Sharif that also hit a procession of Shiite pilgrims but with much smaller casualty figures.
WERTHEIMER: Any idea who might be behind this attack?
LAWRENCE: The Taliban have denied responsibility in a statement that came out a few hours after the attacks. They said that this was done by the enemies of Afghanistan. We've seen this in the past, where there are attacks; the Taliban sometimes come out with an immediate claim of responsibility, sometimes a denial hours after the fact. It's hard to say if it could have been one of the splinter groups, one of the smaller armed groups in the country that does have a connection with the Taliban, or some other Sunni extremist group - possibly al-Qaida. But we don't know and some people are taking this Taliban denial with a grain of salt.
WERTHEIMER: What about the attack in Mazar-e-Sharif, do you have any idea - anybody claiming that one?
No, not yet. Even less information about that one. They say that the bomb was perhaps attached to a bicycle. Mazar is sort of the capital of northern Afghanistan. It's one of the most stable cities in the country, and the shrine in the center of the city is, according to Afghan legend, the burial place of a famous Shiite Imam.
Just yesterday, an international conference on Afghanistan concluded in Bonn, Germany. They've been discussing NATO's support of Afghanistan after most troops withdraw in 2014. Do you think today's attacks have any bearing on that, or could affect what happened there?
LAWRENCE: Well, the expectations for the conference in Bonn had gone from low expectations to really no expectations. There had been hopes that perhaps over a year ago that even the Taliban delegation might attend. But after the assassination of the head of the High Peace Commission here, talks seemed off the table. And then, even worse, Pakistan declined to attend this meeting after the erroneous airstrike which killed about 24 Pakistani soldiers inside Pakistan last week.
So, without Pakistan's presence it seems impossible that any sort of peace talks would start. So, these attacks today just raise another specter of what might happen without a viable peace negotiation process, especially after NATO troops leave. Afghans here - everyone from shopkeepers to politicians - when I talk to them about what happens after the troops go, the first thing they say is they're afraid there could be a civil war, as there was in the past between Afghanistan's different ethnic groups. But this now raises the possibility that that civil conflict could be sectarian as well. There's something Afghanistan hasn't had a trouble with in past years, despite all the violence there. There hasn't been attacks like this specifically on Shia pilgrims on Shiite holidays. And so, this has people very nervous.
WERTHEIMER: Quil, thanks very much.
LAWRENCE: Thank you, Linda.
WERTHEIMER: We've been speaking with NPR's Kabul bureau chief, Quil Lawrence. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.