KABUL – Activists 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 before the withdrawal of the US military from Afghanistan.
The explosions hit the Sayeda Shuhada school in the Dasht-e Barchi area west of Kabul, an area largely populated by the Shiite Hazara community. The region has suffered a series of deadly attacks in recent months.
A Taliban spokesperson tweeted condemning Saturday’s attack, accusing Islamic State of being behind. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, however, blamed the Taliban. In a statement condemning the bombings, he said that “the Taliban, by stepping up their illegitimate war and violence, have shown that they have no interest in finding a peaceful solution to the current crisis.”
Sayeda Shuhada School welcomes students who study in separate teams. The explosions erupted in the afternoon, as the girls left for the day. The cause of the explosions was not immediately clear. Images circulated on social media showed a car set on fire by the school, suggesting the activists had used a car bomb.
The attack is likely to heighten fears in Afghanistan that the country will slide into further violence and possibly a sectarian civil war as the United States withdraws its remaining troops from the country. While the Biden administration has set September 11 as the deadline for all U.S. forces to leave Afghanistan, U.S. officials have suggested the withdrawal could be completed as early as July 4.
The achievements of Afghan women over the past 20 years, especially in educating girls, are said to be most at risk amid deteriorating security situation as militants step up attacks and attempt to capture more. territory to the besieged Afghan government.
Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said 52 people were also injured in Saturday’s blast. It was not immediately clear how many of the victims were children. A senior security official provided photos and images 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. In the aftermath of Saturday’s bombing, angry residents of the area attacked police and prevented security forces from entering the scene, making it impossible to immediately assess what exactly caused the blasts, a said a senior security official.
A witness living near the school said he was walking down the street when the first explosion tore Dasht-e Barchi apart. “I saw a plume of smoke rising from the side of the school. Then I heard two explosions in a row, ”said the resident, who asked not to be named for security reasons. “I saw people rushing to school to find their children. I also saw people transferring dead and injured students to the nearby hospital. Ambulance sirens were everywhere right after the explosion.
President Biden’s decision to leave Afghanistan no later than September 11 follows a February 2020 deal between the Taliban and the Trump administration that committed the insurgents to begin peace talks with the Afghan government. However, US efforts to reach 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, closing in on several provincial capitals. Last week, a truck loaded with explosives exploded outside a guesthouse in the eastern province of Logar, killing 27 people.
ISIS, meanwhile, is waging a separate insurgency in parts of the country. Since its inception in early 2015, the Afghan branch of the Islamic State has suffered huge losses due to US airstrikes. But, despite the loss of many of its strongholds in eastern Afghanistan, ISIS has remained able to orchestrate large-scale terrorist attacks in Afghan cities, especially Kabul.
The Hazara community in Kabul has suffered the brunt of the attacks, including a maternity hospital last year that killed 16 people, including babies, and an education center in October, which killed at least 24 people. ISIS also claimed responsibility for an assault on Kabul University in November, in which gunmen killed at least 19 people.
ISIS in Afghanistan has recruited dozens of foreign fighters and Taliban deserters. The group adheres to a more radical Islamist ideology than the Taliban and mainly targets civilians. Although the two groups have clashed frequently, Afghan government officials accuse the Taliban of collaborating with ISIS to carry out attacks in Kabul.
Write to Sune Engel Rasmussen à [email protected]
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