Three powerful blasts outside a high school for girls in the Afghan capital of Kabul killed at least 68 people and wounded 165, many of them teenage girls leaving class. An eyewitness tells Reuters that all but seven or eight of the victims were schoolgirls. The explosions that targeted the students at the Sayed Ul-Shuhada high school come at a time when many had been warning that the withdrawal of U.S. troops could leave women particularly vulnerable to violence. In this case, the blasts targeted ethnic Hazaras, who are mostly Shiite and dominate the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, the western district of the capital where the attack took place. Officials said the death toll could keep rising as many of the wounded remain in critical condition.
The explosions began with a car bomb that went off outside the school on Saturday afternoon. And then when students went outside to see what was going on there were two IED explosions, Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry said. The school has classes for boys in the morning and girls in the afternoon and the explosions began at around 4 p.m., when girls were leaving and the streets were full of people. “I rushed to the scene [after the blasts] and found myself in the middle of bodies, their hands and heads cut off and bones smashed,” a resident of Dasht-e-Barchi tells AFP. “All of them were girls. Their bodies piled on top of each other.”
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. The government has blamed the Taliban but Taliban officially denied responsibility and condemned the attack.
Although this attack was particularly deadly, it comes as Afghanistan has suffered a series of car bombings over the past few months. The increased violence has led to criticism from citizens about a lack of security amid fear of what will happen when the U.S. and NATO finish their military withdrawal from Afghanistan. U.S. troops should be out by Sept. 11 at the latest. The Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood has been a particular target for attacks. Hazara leaders now say they will set up their own protection force in the neighborhood. “So many places in Afghanistan have endured so much pain, but the Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood in Kabul has suffered horrendously,” notes Secunder Kermani, an Afghanistan correspondent for the BBC.
As dozens of victims were buried, Pope Francis mentioned the bombing in his traditional Sunday remarks. “Let us pray for the victims of the terrorist attack in Kabul, an inhumane action that struck so many girls as they were coming out of school,” he said. “May God give Afghanistan peace.”