KABUL: A suicide bomber attacked an education centre in the Afghan capital on Friday where hundreds of students were preparing for university exams, killing at least 20 people, most of them young women.
The bombing took place in the Dasht-i-Barchi neighbourhood of western Kabul, predominantly home to the minority Shia Hazara community, which have been at the receiving end of some of Afghanistan’s most deadly attacks.
The bomber shot dead two security guards before entering the gender-segregated classroom, said student Ali Irfani, who escaped the carnage.
“Not many boys were hit because they were at the rear end of the classroom. The bomber entered from the front door where girls were sitting,” he said.
Blast targets Hazara community; most of the dead include girls
Akbar, another student witness, also said that young women made up most of the casualties, with up to 600 people in the hall at the time.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the blast at Kaaj Higher Educational Centre, which coaches students for university admission tests.
The militant Islamic State group had claimed previous attacks in the area targeting girls, schools and mosques.
“Many students were hit by shrapnel in their head, neck and eyes,” said Asadullah Jahangir.
Kabul police spokesman Khalid Zadran said 20 people were killed and 27 others wounded.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said that at least 24 people were killed and 36 others wounded in the attack, adding the numbers were expected to rise.
A shopkeeper from the neighbourhood said there was a loud explosion and then crowds of students rushed out of the centre.
“It was chaos as many students, boys and girls, tried to escape from the building. It was a horrific scene. Everyone was so scared,” he said.
Italian NGO Emergency, which operates a hospital in Kabul, said it had received 22 patients, including 20 women, two of whom had died.
“The victims are all between 18 and 25 years old, and most of them were in the classroom to take an exam,” it said in a statement. Families on Friday rushed to hospitals where ambulances arrived with victims, and lists of those confirmed dead or wounded were pasted on the walls.
“We didn’t find her here,” said a distressed woman looking for her sister at one of the hospitals. “She was 19 years old.” “We are calling her but she’s not responding.”
Last year, before the Taliban returned to power, at least 85 people — mainly girl students — were killed and about 300 wounded when three bombs exploded near their school in the area.
Friday’s attack is a “shamefaced reminder of the ineptitude and utter failure of the Taliban, as de facto authorities, to protect the people of Afghanistan”, Samira Hamidi of rights group Amnesty International said in a statement.
The United Nations’ special rapporteur on Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, condemned the attack. “Onslaught on education for Hazaras & Shias must end. Stop attacks on Afghanistan’s future, stop international crimes,” he said on Twitter.
Pakistan condemns attack
Pakistan also condemned the attack in the strongest terms, the Foreign Office said on Friday.
In a statement, the FO spokesperson said that the government and people of Pakistan extend their profound and heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families and pray for early recovery of the injured.
“We stand in complete solidarity with our Afghan brethren in the fight against the scourge of terrorism.”
Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2022