At least 23 people have been killed in a suicide bombing at an education center in Kabul, most of them believed to be young women, in the latest sign of a worsening security situation in the Afghan capital.
The explosion took place on Friday at the Kaaj educational center in a neighborhood mainly inhabited by Hazaras – an ethnic minority group that has long faced oppression.
Students were taking practical entrance exams at the university at 7:30 a.m. local time (11 p.m. ET) when the blast first occurred, Kabul police spokesman Khalid Zadran told CNN.
Abdu Ghayas Momand, a doctor from Ali Jinah Hospital, where some of the victims were taken, said 23 people were killed and another 36 injured.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack.
Taiba Mehtarkhil, an eyewitness, told CNN that many of the victims were young women. She had gone to the center to look for her friend after hearing news of the attack and was confronted by scenes of chaos and despair, she said.
“I saw parents, other family members of the Kaaj students, screaming and running up and down,” he said. “Some were trying to get emergency medical help to their loved ones and some others were looking for their sons and daughters. I saw with my own eyes about 20 dead and many others injured.”
Mehtarkhil’s friend survived the attack as she was running late and had not reached class when the blast occurred, she said.
Another eyewitness, a 20-year-old woman who did not want to be named for safety reasons, told CNN she was about 20 steps from the gate when the blast knocked her to the ground.
“When I walked in, I saw many of my classmates covered in blood. I learned that the explosion had happened inside my classroom,” she said through tears.
“I was in a state of shock. I was just screaming my friends names and looking for them. I found some of them alive, but not my closest friend who was 19 and the smartest girl in our class,” he said.
Her classroom is the largest at the center and usually holds about 500 students, she 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 people not to treat this as just another news story. I want the world to know the pain we are going through right now. I’m completely devastated,” she said.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid condemned the attack in a tweet on Friday.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan characterizes the attack on the Kaj educational center in the 13th district of Kabul as a major crime, strongly condemns it and expresses its deepest sympathy to the families of the victims of this incident.”
“Serious measures will be taken to identify and punish the perpetrators,” he added.
UNICEF said it was “shocked by the horrific attack” on a tweet Friday.
“This heinous act claimed the lives of dozens of teenage girls and boys and seriously injured many more,” it said. “Violence in or around educational institutions is never acceptable. Such places should be havens of peace where children can learn, be with friends and feel safe as they build skills for their future.”
The United States said it “strongly condemns the attack” in a statement on Twitter.
“Targeting a room full of students taking exams is shameful. all students should be able to pursue an education in peace and without fear,” the US Chargé d’Afghanistan He wrote.
Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August 2021, there have been many attacks against the Hazara community.
The Islamic State of Khorasan province has claimed responsibility for 13 attacks against Hazaras and is linked to three others that have killed and wounded at least 700 people, according to Human Rights Watch.
“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 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 others.
This is breaking news. More to come.