Muharram Procession
Muharram ProcessionCC/Sayed Mohz Fauz Haider

Twin bomb attacks in Afghanistan killed at least 58 people at Shiite shrines and wounded at least 150 more on the Islamic observance of Ashura.

According to the Kabul Press, the first blast tore through a crowd of worshippers at the entrance to a riverside shrine in central Kabul, where hundreds of  Shiite Muslims had gathered.

"Fifty-four are dead and 150 others are injured, “health ministry spokesman Ghulam Sakhi Kargar Noorughli told reporters.

A second blast at another shrine in Mazar-i-Sharif killed four people, bringing the day's total death toll to 58. Officials fear the death toll may rise.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either blast.

"A suicide bomber detonated his explosives in the Abu-Ul Fazil shrine," Kabul police said in a statement. They said it was too soon to comment on the number of lives lost.

An police official said it was believed the bomber had arrived with a group of Shiite pilgrims from Logar province, south of Kabul.

In Mazar-i-Sharif, police spokesman Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai said that the blast was caused by a bicycle bomb, adding that four other people had also been injured.

Police in the southern city of Kandahar, the Taliban's heartland,  told reporters five people were wounded by a motorcycle bomb. However, police added they did not believe the Kandahar attack was related to Ashura. 

Afghan president Hamid Karzai said it was the first time in his war-torn nation’s history attacks had specifically targeted religious festivities.

This is "the first time that, on such an important religious day in Afghanistan, terrorism of that horrible nature is taking place," Karzai said at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The attacks occurred just a day after an international conference in Bonn on the future of Afghanistan after NATO troops pull out at the end of 2014.

Karzai also appealed to Afghanistan's neighbor Pakistan – which boycotted the Bonn meeting amid a row with the US and its NATO allies over a lethal border incident that killed 24 of Pakistan’s soldiers – saying Islamabad had "a very important role to play in the peace process in Afghanistan".

The Day of Ashura falls on the 10th day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar marking the climax of the Remembrance of Muharram.

It is commemorated by Muslims as a day of mourning for the death of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad, at the Battle of Karbala  on 10 October  680.

Shiite Muslims commemorate the day by working themselves into a frenzy in the morning of ibn Ali’s ‘martyrdom.’ Some also engage in self-flagellation, going so far as to include razors and spikes in the chains they use to whip themselves.

According to Sunni Muslim tradition, Muhammad fasted on this day and asked other people to fast as well. Sunni Muslims also remember the day, claiming that Moses fasted on that day to express gratitude to God for liberating the Israelites from Egypt.