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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shooting Breaks Out During Shiite Procession in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- An attack during a Shiite Muslim procession sparked a burst of shooting that left two Sunni Muslims dead Tuesday, officials said, as tens of thousands of worshipers across Pakistan marked the climax of a violence-plagued religious festival.

Shooting broke out after either a rocket or a grenade exploded near police protecting the pre-dawn procession in Hangu, about 100 kilometers from the regional capital of Peshawar, police said.

Saadullah Khan, a local police official, said the dead men were Afghan refugees and that both were Sunnis. Nine police officers and four civilians were injured, some by bullets and others by shrapnel, he said.

Khan said it was unclear who was behind the initial attack or the gunfire, the latest in a string of violence during the Ashura festival, when Shiites mark the death of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Islam's prophet Muhammad. The festival ends later Tuesday.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Sunni Muslim extremists have repeatedly targeted Shiites during Ashura.

Across Pakistan on Tuesday, Shiite worshipers joined processions in which men flail their backs with blades attached to chains, drawing blood in a sign of mourning.

In the southern port of Karachi, sharpshooters were deployed Tuesday on building roofs along a downtown street as an estimated 40,000 Shiites filed past, police said.

Traffic had been diverted and residents along the route were told to stay off their balconies.

Marchers carried huge black and white religious flags, with many beating their chests and chanting "Ya Hussain!" or "Oh Hussain!"

The majority of Pakistan's Sunni Muslims co-exist peacefully with the minority Shiites. Extremists on both sides regularly carry out deadly attacks.