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Landmine kills 11 pilgrims in southern Afghanistan

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KABUL (Reuters) – At least 11 pilgrims including seven children were killed and on Monday when their vehicle set off a landmine in southern Afghanistan, local government and health officials said.

The blast happened in the Khakrez district of Kandahar province at around midday, said Hayatullah Hayat, a spokesman for Kandahar’s governor.

A senior health official said 22 children and eight women were among another 34 women and children who were critically wounded.

The victims were going on a pilgrimage to a shrine that houses the tomb of Sufi Shah Agha, a companion and relative of the Prophet Mohammad.

Zarmina, a 10-year-old girl who was one of the 34 injured, was taken to a government-run hospital.

“My sister was among those killed in the blast, my brother, and mother are critically wounded,” said Zarmina, who goes by one name.

In Logar province in the south east, a blast inside a mosque in the capital city of Pul-e-Alam led to the death of three Taliban fighters and 11 civilians, including three children, said Hasibullah Stanekzai, the head of Logar provincial council.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the landmine blast and the explosion inside the mosque. Taliban fighters say they use roadside bombs and landmines to attack security forces, but civilians are frequently hurt or killed.

In Balkh province in the north, two children were killed in a landmine explosion on Sunday, officials said.

Years of conflict have left Afghanistan strewn with landmines, which are often picked up by curious children.

Last year, at least 1,415 Afghan civilians were killed or injured by landmines and unexploded munitions. Children made up one third of overall casualties, and 80 percent of those from unexploded munitions, according to the United Nations Mine Action Service.

(Reporting by Sarwar Amin in Kandahar, Ahmad Sultan in Jalalabad, Orooj Hakimi, Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul; Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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