KABUL, Afghanistan – A bomb exploded near a girls’ school in a Shiite-majority district of western Kabul on Saturday, killing at least 30 people, including many young students between the ages of 11 and 15. The Taliban condemned the attack and declined any responsibility.
Ambulances evacuated the wounded when relatives and local residents yelled at authorities near the explosion site at Syed Al-Shahda School in Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said. The death toll should continue to rise.
The bombing, apparently aimed at causing the highest levels of civilian carnage, heighten fears that violence in the war-torn country could escalate if the US and NATO end nearly 20 years of military engagement.
Local residents said the explosion was deafening. One, Naser Rahimi, told The Associated Press that he heard three different explosions, although there was no official confirmation of multiple explosions. Rahimi also said he believed the sheer force of the explosion meant that the death toll would almost certainly rise.
Rahimi said the explosion started when the girls streamed out of the school around 4:30 p.m. Local time. Authorities are investigating the attack but have yet to confirm details.
While no one took responsibility for the bombing, the Afghan subsidiary of Islamic State had previously targeted the Shiite neighborhood.
The radical Sunni Muslim group has declared war on Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan. Washington blamed IS for a vicious attack last year at a maternity hospital in the same area that killed pregnant women and newborn babies.
In Dasht-e-Barchi, angry crowds attacked the ambulances and even beat health workers as they tried to evacuate the wounded, said Health Ministry spokesman Ghulam Dastigar Nazari. He pleaded with residents to work together and give ambulances free access to the site.
Images shared on social media allegedly showed bloody school backpacks and books strewn across the street in front of the school and smoke billowing over the neighborhood.
At a nearby hospital, Associated Press journalists saw at least 20 bodies lined up in hallways and rooms, and dozen of the wounded and families of victims crowded the facility.
Dozens of people lined up outside the Muhammad Ali Jinnah Hospital to donate blood while family members checked the lists of victims on the walls.
Both Arian and Nazari said that at least 50 people were also injured and that the number of victims could increase. The attack happened just as the day of fast was coming to an end.
No one immediately took responsibility for the attack, and Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters in a message that only the Islamic State Group could be responsible for such a heinous crime. Mujahid also accused Afghan intelligence of participating in ISIS, although it did not provide any evidence.
The Taliban and the Afghan government have exchanged allegations of a series of targeted murders of civil society workers, journalists and Afghan professionals. While IS has taken responsibility for some of these murders, many have not been claimed.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued a statement condemning the attack and accusing the Taliban, despite denying it. He didn’t offer any proof.
IS previously called for attacks against Shiite minorities in the same region and last year called for two brutal attacks on educational institutions that killed 50 people, most of them students.
Although IS in Afghanistan has been demoted, according to government and US officials, it has intensified its attacks, particularly against Shiite Muslims and workers.
The group had previously assumed responsibility for the targeted murder of three female media workers in eastern Afghanistan.
The attack comes days after the remaining 2,500-3,500 American troops officially begin to leave the country. They will be published no later than September 11th. The withdrawal is taking place amid resurgent Taliban who control or rule over half of Afghanistan.
The top US military officer said Sunday that Afghan government forces face an uncertain future and possibly some “poor possible outcomes” against Taliban insurgents as the withdrawal accelerates in the coming weeks.