A suicide bomber struck an educational center in a Shiite area of the Afghan capital on Friday, killing 19 people and wounding 27, a Taliban-appointed spokesman for Kabul’s police chief said.
The blast inside the center of Kabul’s Dashti Barchi neighborhood, populated mostly by members of Afghanistan’s minority Shiite community, took place in the early morning hours, spokesman Khalid Zadran said.
The victims included high school graduates, both girls and boys, who were taking a university entrance exam when the explosion occurred, Zadran said. The center is known as the Kaaj Higher Educational Center and helps students prepare and study for university entrance exams, among its activities.
Zadran said schools in the area will have to ask the Taliban for extra security when they host events with large gatherings, such as Friday’s study prep.
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An eyewitness, Shafi Akbary, a 19-year-old high school student, had been attending the center for the past six months. The center had invited students to come around 6:30 a.m. Friday for the practice exam, and Akbary said there were about 300 students.
“First, we heard the sounds of a few gunshots at the main gate. Everyone was worried and tried to run in a different direction. Soon after, there was a huge explosion inside the center,” said Akbary, speaking to The Associated Press. the phone..
Akbary, who was unharmed in the blast, said he saw dozens of bodies and injured people scattered around him. “I was so scared and I couldn’t even move to help them. Later, other people ran in and pulled us out,” he added.
The suicide attack was the latest in a steady stream of violence since the Taliban took power. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
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The Islamic State group, the main rival of the Taliban since taking over Afghanistan in August 2021, has in the past targeted the Hazara community, including in Dashti Barchi.
“Our teams have been sent to the blast site to find out more details,” Abdul Nafi Takor, a spokesman for the Taliban-appointed Interior Ministry, said earlier.
US Chargé d’Afghanistan Karen Decker condemned the attack in a tweet.
“Addressing a room full of students taking exams is shameful – all students should be able to pursue an education in peace and without fear,” he said. “We hope for a speedy recovery for the victims and we grieve with the families of the deceased.”
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Afghanistan’s Hazaras, who are mostly Shia Muslims, have been the target of a brutal campaign of violence in recent years, blamed on the Islamic State group’s regional affiliate. Militants have carried out several deadly attacks in Dashti Barchi, including a horrific 2020 attack on a maternity hospital that killed 24 people, including babies and mothers.
The United Nations children’s fund said it was appalled by Friday’s horrific attack, adding that violence in or around schools was never acceptable.
“This heinous act claimed the lives of dozens of teenage girls and boys and seriously injured many more,” UNICEF tweeted. “Children and teenagers are not, and should never be, the target of violence.”