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Pakistan Ashura bomb kills 22

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Pakistan

JHANG, Pakistan (CNN) -- Twenty-two people have been killed and dozens more were wounded in a suicide attack during a Shiite Muslim holiday procession in the city of Hangu in northwest Pakistan, officials said.

The attack took place Thursday during the Ashura holiday mourning the death of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility.

Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao told CNN the army and paramilitary troops were sent to the area to quell riots that broke out after the attack. A mob burned shops and government offices.

Maulana Khurshid Anwar, a leader of the Shiite procession, told Reuters one of the blasts was near a stage from where he was about to address the mourners. Angry Shiites started setting shops and a bank on fire after the explosion, he said.

Riffat Pasha, North West Frontier police chief, told Reuters there had been some shooting into the air after the blasts.

"We have sent armored personnel carriers there, and the Frontier Constabulary is also there," he said. "The situation is pretty much under control."

The processions, which take place in towns and cities throughout the Muslim world, have been marked by violence in previous years.

Bracing for possible attacks on the national holiday, security was on high alert throughout Pakistan, and marchers were checked for explosives before being allowed to enter the processions.

Pakistan has suffered Islamist sectarian violence for years, most of it directed by majority Sunni Muslims against Shiites.

Tensions tend to rise during the month of Moharram, the 10-day period ending with Ashura.

Differences between Sunnis and Shiites are rooted in a controversy that erupted in the very earliest days of Islam, over who should succeed the Prophet after his death in 632 AD.

Sunnis, who form a majority of Muslims worldwide including in Pakistan, regard Abu Bakr, one of Mohammad's companions, as his successor, while Shiites revere Ali, the prophet's son-in-law and cousin.

During Moharram, Shiites take to streets in big processions beating themselves with sharpened chains to mourn the death of Hussain, Mohammad's grandson and Ali's son, in a battle in Iraq in 680 AD.

CNN Producer Syed Mohsin Naqvi contributed to this report

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