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At least 50 killed in bomb attack near school for girls in Kabul

·4-min read

The death toll in a horrific bombing at a girls’ school in the Afghan capital has soared to 50, many of them pupils between 11 and 15 years old, the Interior Ministry said Sunday.

The number of wounded in Saturday's attack has also climbed to more than 100, said Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian.

Three explosions outside the school entrance struck as students were leaving for the day, he said. The blasts occurred in a mostly Shiite neighborhood in the west of the capital. The Taliban denied responsibility, condemning the attack.

The first explosion came from a vehicle packed with explosives, followed by two others, said Arian, adding that the casualty figures could still rise.

The attack targeted Afghanistan's ethnic Hazaras who dominate the western Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, where the bombings occurred. Most Hazaras are Shiite Muslims.

The area has been hit by violence against minority Shiites and most often claimed by the Islamic State group affiliate operating in the country. No one has yet claimed Saturday’s bombings.

Ambulances evacuated the wounded as relatives and residents screamed at authorities near the scene of the blast at Syed Al-Shahda school, in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said.

The bombing, apparently aimed to cause maximum civilian carnage, adds to fears that violence in the war-wrecked country could escalate as the US and NATO end nearly 20 years of military engagement.

Residents in the area said the explosion was deafening. One, Naser Rahimi, told The Associated Press he heard three separate explosions on Saturday. Rahimi also said he believed that the sheer power of the explosion meant the death toll would almost certainly climb.

Rahimi said the explosion went off as the girls were streaming out of the school at around 4:30 pm local time.

While no one has claimed responsibility for the bombing, the Afghan Islamic State affiliate has targeted the Shiite neighborhood before.

The radical Sunni Muslim group has declared war on Afghanistan's minority Shiite Muslims. Washington blamed IS group for a vicious attack last year in 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, Health Ministry spokesman Ghulam Dastigar Nazari said. He implored residents to cooperate and allow ambulances free access to the site.

Images circulating on social media purportedly showed bloodied school backpacks and books strewn across the street in front of the school, and smoke rising above the neighborhood.

At one nearby hospital, Associated Press journalists saw at least 20 dead bodies lined up in hallways and rooms, with dozens of wounded people and families of victims pressing through the facility.

Outside the Muhammad Ali Jinnah Hospital, dozens of people lined up to donate blood, while family members checked casualty lists posted on the walls.

The attack occurred just as the fasting day came to an end.

Attack comes days after US troops begin leaving Afghanistan

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 Afghanistan's intelligence agency of being complicit with IS group, although he offered no evidence.

The Taliban and the Afghan government have traded accusations over a series of targeted killings of civil society workers, journalists and Afghan professionals. While IS group has taken responsibility for some of those killings, many have gone unclaimed.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued a statement condemning the attack, blaming the Taliban even as they denied it. He offered no proof.

IS group has previously claimed attacks against minority Shiites in the same area, last year claiming two brutal attacks on education facilities that killed 50 people, most of them students.

Even as IS group has been degraded in Afghanistan, according to government and US officials, it has stepped-up its attacks particularly against Shiite Muslims and women workers.

Earlier the group took responsibility for the targeted killing of three women media personnel in eastern Afghanistan.

The attack comes days after the remaining 2,500 to 3,500 American troops officially began leaving the country. They will be out by September 11 at the latest. The pullout comes amid a resurgent Taliban, who control or hold sway over half of Afghanistan.

The top US military officer said Sunday that Afghan government forces face an uncertain future and possibly some “bad possible outcomes” against Taliban insurgents as the withdrawal accelerates in the coming weeks.

>> David Petraeus: US troop withdrawal 'is not going to end the endless war in Afghanistan'

(FRANCE 24 with AP)