Multiple blasts at a school in the Afghan capital Kabul on Saturday killed at least 40 people and wounded dozens more, mostly female students, officials said, in an attack Afghan President Ashraf Ghani blamed on the insurgent Taliban.
Militants killed at least 25 people in three explosions targeting girls outside a school in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood in Kabul, officials said, in an attack that could exacerbate sectarian tensions ahead of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The blasts hit the Sayeda Shuhada school in the Dasht-e Barchi area of west Kabul, an area populated largely by the Shiite Hazara community. The area has suffered a string of deadly attacks in recent months.
No group claimed responsibility for the bombings. In the past, Islamic State’s regional affiliate, which considers Shiites to have rejected Islam, usually took credit for attacks targeting Shiite civilians. While the Taliban harshly oppressed the Hazaras when the movement ruled most of Afghanistan in the 1990s, the Taliban now say they tolerate the Shiite minority.
A Taliban spokesman tweeted to condemn Saturday’s attack, accusing Islamic State of being behind it. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, however, blamed the Taliban. In a statement condemning the bombings, he said that “the Taliban, by intensifying their illegitimate war and violence, showed that they have no interest in a peaceful solution to the current crisis.”
The Sayeda Shuhada school is home to male and female students studying in separate shifts. The explosions went off in the afternoon, as girls were leaving for the day. It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the blasts. Footage that circulated on social media showed a burned-out car by the school, suggesting the militants had used a car bomb.
The attack is likely to intensify fears in Afghanistan that the country will slip into further violence and perhaps a sectarian civil war as the U.S. withdraws its remaining troops from the country. While the Biden administration set Sept. 11 as the deadline for all U.S. forces to leave Afghanistan, American officials have suggested that the pullout could be completed as soon as July 4.
Achievements made by Afghan women over the past 20 years, particularly in girls’ education, would be most at risk amid a deteriorating security situation as militants intensify attacks and try to seize more territory from the embattled Afghan government.
Afghan Ministry of Interior spokesman Tariq Arian said 52 people were also injured in Saturday’s blast. It wasn’t immediately clear how many of the victims were children. A senior security official provided pictures and footage from a nearby hospital showing at least 16 bodies.
Many Hazaras, a Shiite minority in a predominantly Sunni Muslim nation, vehemently criticize Mr. Ghani’s government for failing to protect them. Following Saturday’s bombing, incensed residents of the area attacked police officers and prevented security forces from entering the scene, making it impossible to immediately assess what exactly had caused the explosions, said a senior security official.
President Biden’s decision to exit Afghanistan no later than Sept. 11 follows a February 2020 deal between the Taliban and the Trump administration that committed the insurgents to enter peace talks with the Afghan government. However, American efforts to clinch a peace settlement before a full withdrawal have stalled. Instead, the Taliban have continued in recent days to push an offensive against Afghan government forces, inching closer to several provincial capitals. Last week, a truck laden with explosives blew up outside a guesthouse in the eastern province of Logar, killing 27 people.
A witness living near the school said he was walking on the street when the first blast ripped through Dasht-e Barchi. “I saw a plume of smoke rising from the side of the school. Then I heard two back-to-back explosions,” said the resident, who asked not to be named because of security concerns. “I saw people rushing towards the school to find their children. I also saw people transferring dead and wounded students to the nearby hospital. Sirens of ambulances were everywhere right after the blast.”
Kabul’s Hazara community has borne the brunt of those attacks, including on a maternity clinic last year, which killed 16, including babies, and an educational center in October, which killed at least 24. Islamic State also claimed responsibility for an assault on Kabul University in November, in which gunmen killed at least 19 people.
Islamic State, meanwhile, is pursuing a separate insurgency in parts of the country. Since its founding in early 2015, Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate has suffered massive casualties from U.S. airstrikes. But, despite losing many of its strongholds in eastern Afghanistan, Islamic State has remained capable of orchestrating large-scale terrorist attacks in Afghan cities, especially Kabul.
Islamic State in Afghanistan has recruited scores of foreign fighters and Taliban defectors. The group espouses a more radical Islamist ideology than the Taliban, and has primarily targeted civilians. Though the two groups have frequently clashed, Afghan government officials accuse the Taliban of collaborating with Islamic State to perpetrate attacks in Kabul.