The bomber shot dead two security guards before entering the gender-segregated classroom
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 happened in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood of western Kabul, a predominantly Shiite Muslim area home to the minority Hazara community, the target of some of Afghanistan’s most deadly attacks.
The bomber shot dead two security guards before entering the gender-segregated classroom, student Ali Irfani, who escaped the carnage, told AFP. “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. Akbar, another student witness, 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. However, the jihadist Islamic State group has claimed previous attacks in the area targeting girls, schools, mosques and a maternity hospital. A resident who ferried victims to hospitals said he saw body parts scattered across the floor of the hall. “Many students were hit by shrapnel in their head, neck and eyes,” said Asadullah Jahangir.
Kabul police spokesman Khalid Zadran said 19 people were killed and 27 others wounded. 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, requesting anonymity.
Italian NGO Emergency, which operates a hospital in Kabul, said it had received 22 patients at the facility, 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.
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 & Shiites must end. Stop attacks on Afghanistan´s future, stop international crimes,” he said on Twitter.
Families on Friday rushed to hospitals where ambulances arrived with victims, and lists of those confirmed dead or wounded were posted on the walls. “We didn´t find her here,” a distressed woman looking for her sister at one of the hospitals said. “She was 19 years old. We are calling her but she´s not responding.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan has also condemned the attack. “The government and people of Pakistan extend their profound and heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families and pray for early recovery of the injured,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We stand in complete solidarity with our Afghan brethren in the fight against the scourge of terrorism,” the statement added.