A suicide bombing at an educational center in Kabul has killed at least 23 people, most of whom are believed to be young women, in the latest sign of the deteriorating security situation in the Afghan capital.
The explosion took place on Friday at the Kaaj educational center, in a neighborhood that is predominantly Hazara, a minority ethnic group that has long faced oppression.
The students were taking a practice college entrance exam at 7:30 am local time (11 pm ET) when the explosion first occurred, Kabul police spokesman Khalid Zadran told CNN.
Abdu Ghayas Momand, a doctor at Ali Jinah Hospital, where some of the victims were taken, said 23 people had died and 36 more were injured.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Taiba Mehtarkhil, an eyewitness, told CNN that many of the victims were young women. She had gone downtown to look for her friend after hearing the news of the attack and was confronted with scenes of chaos and despair, she said.
“I saw parents, other members of the families of the Kaaj students, screaming and running around,” he said. “Some were seeking emergency medical attention for their loved ones and others were looking for their sons and daughters. I saw around 20 dead and many more injured with my own eyes.”
Mehtarkhil’s friend survived the attack because she was late and had not made it to the classroom when the explosion occurred, she said.
Another eyewitness, a 20-year-old who did not want to be named for security reasons, told CNN she was about 20 steps from the door when the blast knocked her to the ground.
“When I walked in, I saw a lot of my teammates in blood. I found out that the explosion had happened inside my classroom,” she said through tears.
“I was in shock. I was calling out my friends’ names and looking for them. I found some alive, but not my closest friend who was 19 and the smartest girl in our class,” she said.
His classroom is the largest in the center and normally seats about 500 male and female students, he said.
“It’s horrible, I’m still in shock, it feels like a nightmare. He killed many of my dearest friends and classmates. I want the world not to treat this as just another story. I want the world to know the pain we are going through right now. I am totally devastated,” she said.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid condemned the attack in a tweet on Friday.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan calls the attack on the Kaj training center in Kabul’s 13th district a great crime, strongly condemns it and expresses its deepest condolences to the families of the victims of this incident.”
“Serious steps will be taken to find and punish the perpetrators,” he added.
Unicef said it was “appalled by the horrific attack” in a cheep Friday.
“This heinous act claimed the lives of dozens of adolescent girls and boys and seriously injured many more,” he said. “Violence in or around educational establishments is never acceptable. Such places should be havens of peace where children can learn, be with friends and feel safe while developing skills for their future.”
The United States said it “strongly condemned the attack” in a statement on Twitter.
“Pointing to a room full of students taking exams is embarrassing; all students should be able to pursue an education in peace and without fear”, the Chargé d’Affaires of the US Mission in Afghanistan wrote.
Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August 2021, there have been multiple attacks against the Hazara community.
The Islamic State of Khorasan province has claimed responsibility for 13 attacks against Hazaras and has been linked to three more that have killed and injured at least 700 people, according to Human Rights Watch.
“The Taliban authorities have done little to protect these communities from suicide bombings and other unlawful attacks or to provide necessary medical care and other assistance to the victims and their families,” the report added.
A series of attacks in Kabul have claimed dozens of lives in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, two Russian embassy employees were among six people killed in a suicide bombing near the Russian embassy, and in August, an explosion at a mosque during evening prayers killed 21 people and injured 33. plus.
This is breaking news. More to come.