Dozens of young girls have been buried in a desolate hilltop cemetery in Kabul, a day after a high school was the target of the bloodiest attack in Afghanistan in more than a year.
A series of explosions outside of school on Saturday during the peak holiday shopping season killed more than 50 people, most of them female students, and injured more than 100 in Dasht-e-Barchi, a western suburb of Kabul populated mainly by Hazara Shia.
The government blamed the Taliban for the carnage, but the armed group denied responsibility and issued a statement saying the country should “safeguard and care for educational centers and institutions.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Tareq Arian told reporters that a car bomb exploded outside the Sayed Al-Shuhada girls’ school on Saturday, and when students panicked, two more devices exploded.
Residents were shopping ahead of this week’s Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Relatives began burying the dead on a hill known as the Martyrs’ Cemetery, where victims of attacks on the Hazara community lie.
Saturday’s explosions came as the U.S. military continues to withdraw its remaining 2,500 troops 20 years after its military intervention in the South Asian nation.
The Hazaras are Shia Muslims who have historically been victims of persecution in the country of 38 million people.
‘Bodies on top of each other’
Bodies in wooden coffins were placed in graves one by one by mourners still in shock and fear, a photographer for the AFP news agency said.
“I rushed to the scene [after the blasts] and I found myself in the middle of bodies, with my hands and head cut off and my bones broken, ”said Mohammad Taqi, a resident of Dasht-e-Barchi, whose two daughters were students at school but had escaped. the attack.
“They were all girls. Their bodies stacked on top of each other.
Last week, students at the school protested the lack of teachers and study materials, said Mirza Hussain, a university student from the area.
“But what they have [in return] was a massacre.
Books and satchels belonging to the victims still lay scattered around the site of the attack.
Afghan officials, including President Ashraf Ghani, blamed the Taliban.
“This savage group does not have the power to confront security forces on the battlefield, and instead targets with brutality and barbarism public facilities and the girls’ school,” Ghani said in a statement afterwards. explosions.
The Taliban have denied any involvement and insist they have not carried out attacks in Kabul since February last year, when they signed a deal with Washington that paved the way for talks on peace and the withdrawal of the remaining US troops.
But the group clashed daily with Afghan forces in the rugged countryside even as the US military reduced its presence.
The Taliban leader warns us
The United States was supposed to have withdrawn all of its forces by May 1, as agreed with the Taliban last year, but Washington pushed the date back to September 11 – a move that angered the Taliban.
Group leader Haibatullah Akhunzada reiterated in a pre-Eid message that any delay in withdrawing troops was a “violation” of this agreement.
“If America does not live up to its commitments again, then the world must stand up and hold America accountable for all consequences,” Akhunzada warned in Sunday’s message.
He also said the country should “safeguard and maintain educational centers and institutions”.
Senior US diplomat in Kabul Ross Wilson called Saturday’s explosions “heinous.”
“This unforgivable attack on children is an attack on the future of Afghanistan, which cannot stand,” Wilson tweeted.
The Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood is regularly the target of attacks by armed groups.
In May last year, a group of gunmen launched a brazen daylight raid on a hospital in the area that left 24 people dead, including 16 mothers of newborns.
On October 24, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a training center in the same neighborhood, killing 18 people in an attack claimed by the armed group ISIL (ISIS).