KABUL, Afghanistan – A bomb exploded near a girls’ school in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood in western Kabul on Saturday, killing at least 30 people, many of whom were young students between the ages of 11 and 15. The Taliban condemned the attack and denied any responsibility.
Ambulances evacuated the injured as relatives and residents shouted at authorities near the site of the explosion at the Syed Al-Shahda school in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, the ministry spokesman said. of the Interior, Tariq Arian. The death toll is expected to rise further.
The bombing, which was apparently aimed at causing maximum civil carnage, adds to fears that violence in the war-torn country will escalate as the United States and NATO end nearly 20 years of engagement military.
Locals said the explosion was deafening. One of them, Naser Rahimi, told The Associated Press he heard three separate explosions, although there has been no official confirmation of multiple explosions. Rahimi also said he believed the sheer power of the explosion meant the death toll would almost certainly increase.
Rahimi said the explosion occurred as the girls were leaving school around 4:30 p.m. local time. Authorities were investigating the attack but have yet to confirm details.
Although no one has claimed responsibility for the bombing, the Islamic State affiliate of Afghanistan has already targeted the Shiite neighborhood.
The radical Sunni Muslim group has declared war on Afghanistan’s Shia Muslim minority. Washington blamed ISIS for a vicious attack last year on a maternity hospital in the same region that killed pregnant women and newborn babies.
In Dasht-e-Barchi, angry crowds attacked ambulances and even beat health workers as they tried to evacuate the injured, Health Ministry spokesman Ghulam Dastigar Nazari said. He implored residents to cooperate and allow ambulances free access to the site.
Images circulating on social media reportedly showed bloody school backpacks and books strewn on the street outside the school, and smoke rising above the neighborhood.
In a nearby hospital, Associated Press reporters saw at least 20 corpses lined up in hallways and rooms, with dozens of injured and families of victims crowding into the facility.
Outside Muhammad Ali Jinnah Hospital, dozens of people lined up to donate blood, as family members checked the injured lists posted on the walls.
Arian and Nazari said at least 50 people were also injured and the number of casualties could rise. The attack happened just as the fasting day was coming to an end.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, and Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters in a message that only ISIS could be responsible for such a heinous crime. Mujahid also accused the Afghan intelligence agency of being an accomplice of ISIS, although he provided no evidence.
The Taliban and the Afghan government have exchanged accusations over a series of targeted killings of Afghan civil society workers, journalists and professionals. Although IS has taken responsibility for some of these killings, many have not been claimed.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued a statement condemning the attack, accusing the Taliban even though they denied it. He offered no proof.
ISIS has previously claimed responsibility for attacks against a Shiite minority in the same region, claiming two brutal attacks on educational institutions last year that killed 50 people, most of them students.
Even though ISIS has been degraded in Afghanistan, according to the US government and officials, it has stepped up its attacks, especially against Shia Muslims and working women.
Previously, the group had taken responsibility for the targeted assassination of three female members of the media in eastern Afghanistan.
The attack comes days after the remaining 2,500 to 3,500 US troops officially began to leave the country. They will be released on September 11 at the latest. The pullout comes amid the resurgence of the Taliban, who control or dominate more than half of Afghanistan.
The senior US military officer said on Sunday that Afghan government forces face an uncertain future and perhaps “possible bad results” against the Taliban insurgents as the withdrawal accelerates in the coming weeks.