Ashura in Karbala: 4.5 million pilgrims visit Imam Hussain shrine

Ashura in Karbala: 4.5 million pilgrims visit Imam Hussain shrine
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KARBALA , Iraq (APP) - Huge crowds of black-clad Shiite Muslim pilgrims thronged the Iraqi shrine city of Karbala Wednesday, weeping and beating their chests in mourning for the seventh-century killing of the prophet's grandson.

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Shiites around the world mark Ashura, but attacks on those commemorating bloodshed 1,300 years ago often result in more mourning and loss, including in Afghanistan, where more than 30 people were killed in attacks on Shiites in less than 24 hours.

Up to 18 were killed in Kabul on Tuesday in two attacks claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group, while a bomb hit a mosque in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing at least 14 more, officials said.

Shiites in Iraq too have come under frequent attack by Sunni extremist group IS, which considers them heretics.

Some 30,000 security personnel were deployed in and around Karbala to protect pilgrims , although attacks inside the city are rare.

The annual Ashura commemorations mark the killing of Imam Hussein by the forces of the Caliph Yazid in 680 AD -- a formative event in Shiite Islam.

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The pilgrimage draws huge numbers of faithful, with Staff Major General Qais Khalaf Rahaima, the head of the security command responsible for the area, saying that 4.5 million people had visited Karbala over a period of 10 days.

Haider al-Salami, spokesman for the Imam Hussein shrine, said two million people took part in a ritual run from outside the city to the mausoleum on Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, black-clad pilgrims massed at the shrine to listen to a recitation of the story of Hussein's death, with some beating their chests or heads and weeping in mourning.

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Then came the ritual run, followed by the burning of a tent representing Yazid's forces destroying Imam Hussein's camp -- the last of the rituals.

"We will continue to commemorate the imam despite terrorist threats," said Saad Jassem, a 35-year-old from nearby Najaf, another Shiite shrine city.

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