A suicide bomber has struck an education centre in a Shia area of the Afghan capital, killing 19 people and wounding 27, including teenagers who were taking mock entry exams for university, a Taliban spokesman said.
The morning explosion took place in Kabul’s Dashti Barchi neighbourhood, an area populated mostly by ethnic Hazaras, who belong to Afghanistan’s minority Shia community.
The so-called Islamic State group has carried out repeated attacks on schools, hospitals and mosques in Dashti Barchi and other Shia areas in recent years.
Around 300 recent high school graduates, boys and girls, had gone to the Kaaj Higher Educational Centre at 6.30am to take exams, said one survivor, 19-year-old Shafi Akbary. The facility helps students prepare and study for the entrance exams, among other activities.
About an hour into the session, the blast went off.
“First, we heard the sounds of a few gunshots at the main gate. Everyone was worried and tried to run to a different direction,” said Mr Akbary, speaking to the Associated Press over the phone. “Soon after that, a huge explosion occurred inside the centre.”
Mr Akbary, who was unharmed, said he saw dozens of bodies and wounded people scattered around him. “I was so afraid and couldn’t even move myself to help them. Later, other people ran inside and took us out,” he added.
Khalid Zadran, the Taliban-appointed spokesman of the Kabul police who gave the casualty toll, said students were among the victims of the blast, but he did not specify how many.
He said education centres in the area will need to ask the Taliban for additional security when they host events with big gatherings.
Police have arrested a suspect who may have links to the attack, Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Nafi Takor said later.
No one immediately claimed the attack, but IS, the chief rival of the Taliban, has been waging a campaign of violence that has intensified since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in August 2021.
Afghanistan’s Hazaras have been a frequent target of the violence. In Dashti Barchi, IS carried out a 2020 attack on a maternity hospital that killed 24 people, including newborn babies and mothers, and an attack on a school in 2021 killed more than 90, mostly schoolgirls.
The neighbourhood sees frequent bombings of minibuses and earlier this year a school and another education centre were hit nearly simultaneously, killing six.
Amnesty International’s South Asia campaigner Samira Hamidi said Friday’s attack showed the “utter failure of the Taliban, as de-facto authorities, to protect the people of Afghanistan”.
She said the Taliban have taken few measures to protect the public, especially Shias and Hazaras. “Instead, their actions of omission and commission have only further aggravated the risk to the lives of the people of Afghanistan, especially those belonging to ethnic and minority communities,” she said.
The United Nations children’s agency Unicef said it was appalled by Friday’s attack. “Children and adolescents are not, and must never be, the target of violence,” it said in a tweet.
Since seizing power, the Taliban have banned most girls beyond sixth grade from attending school, but female high school graduates from previous years can go to university.