The death toll from an explosion outside a school in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul has risen to 68, Afghan officials said on Sunday, with medics working to provide medical treatment to 165 injured and officials attempting to identify the bodies.
Multiple explosions on Saturday evening rocked the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, which is home to a large community of Shiites from the Hazara ethnic minority that has been targeted in the past by militants from the Islamic State, a group of Sunni militants.
At first, a car bomb exploded in front of Sayed Al-Shuhada School on Saturday, and when students panicked, two more bombs went off.
Officials said most of those killed were schoolgirls. Some families were still searching hospitals for their missing children.
“The first explosion was powerful and occurred so close to the children that some of them could not be found,” said an Afghan official, requesting anonymity.
An eyewitness told Reuters that all but seven or eight of the victims were schoolgirls returning home after completing their studies. On Sunday, civilians and police gathered books and satchels scattered along a bloodstained road heavily trafficked by shoppers ahead of this year’s Eid al-Fitr celebrations next week.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani blamed the attack on Taliban insurgents on Saturday, but a Taliban spokesman denied any involvement, saying the group condemned any attack on Afghan civilians.
Pope Francis condemned the Kabul bombing, calling it an “inhuman act” in remarks to pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City on Sunday.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned the attack and expressed his deepest condolences to the families of the victims as well as to the Afghan government and people.
The families of the victims blamed the Afghan government and Western powers for failing to end the ongoing violence and war.
The bodies were still collected in the morgues while the first burials were carried out in the west of the city. Some families were still searching for missing relatives on Sunday, gathering outside hospitals to read names posted on walls and check mortuaries.
“Throughout the night, we carried the bodies of young girls and boys to a cemetery and prayed for all those injured in the attack,” said Mohammed Reza Ali, who helped the families of the victims in a private hospital.
“Why not just kill us all to end this war?” he said.
Security was stepped up throughout Kabul after the attack, but authorities said they would not be able to ensure the safety of all schools, mosques and other public centers.
Conflict still rages in Afghanistan, with security forces engaged in daily fighting with the Taliban who have fought the war to overthrow the foreign-backed government since their ouster from power in Kabul in 2001.
Although the United States missed the May 1 withdrawal deadline agreed to in talks with the Taliban last year, its withdrawal has begun, with President Joe Biden announcing that all troops will be withdrawn by now. September 11th.
But the withdrawal of foreign troops has led to an upsurge in infighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban insurgents, with both sides trying to retain control of strategic centers.
Critics of the decision say Islamist militants will try to seize power and civilians fear being under the brutal and oppressive Taliban rule again.