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Death Toll 50 in Afghan School Bombing 05/09 09:12

   

   KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Grieving families buried their dead Sunday 
following a horrific bombing at a girls' school in the Afghan capital that 
killed 50 people, many of them pupils between 11 and 15 years old.

   The number of wounded in Saturday's attack climbed to more than 100, said 
Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian. In the western neighborhood of 
Dasht-e-Barchi, families buried their dead amid angry recriminations at a 
government they said has failed to protect them from repeated attacks in the 
mostly Shiite Muslim neighborhood.

   "The government reacts after the incident, it doesn't do anything before the 
incident," said Mohammad Baqir, Alizada, 41, who had gathered to bury his 
niece, Latifa, a Grade 11 student the Syed Al-Shahda school.

   Three explosions outside the school entrance struck as students were leaving 
for the day, said Arian. The blasts targeted Afghanistan's ethnic Hazaras who 
dominate the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, where the bombings occurred. Most 
Hazaras are Shiite Muslims. The Taliban denied responsibility, condemning the 
attack and the many deaths.

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

   In the capital rattled by relentless bombings, Saturday's attack was among 
the worst. Criticism has mounted over lack of security and growing fears of 
even more violence as the U.S. and NATO complete their final military 
withdrawal from Afghanistan.

   At Vatican City, in his traditional Sunday remarks to faithful in St. 
Peter's Square, Pope Francis cited the bombing. "Let us pray for the victims of 
the terrorist attack in Kabul, an inhumane action that struck so many girls as 
they were coming out of school." He said. The pontiff then added: "May God give 
Afghanistan peace."

   The Dasht-e-Barchi area has been hit by several incidents of violence 
targeting minority Shiites and most often claimed by the Islamic State 
affiliate operating in the country. No one has yet claimed Saturday's bombings.

   In this same neighborhood in 2018, a school bombing killed 34 people, mostly 
students. In September 2018 a wrestling club was attacked killing 24 people and 
in May 2020 a maternity hospital was brutally attacked killing 24 people, 
including pregnant women and infants. And in October 2020, the Kawsar-e-Danish 
tutoring center was attacked, killing 30 people.

   Most of the attacks were claimed by the Islamic State affiliate operating in 
Afghanistan.

   The radical Sunni Muslim group has declared war on Afghanistan's Shiites. 
Washington blamed IS for a vicious attack last year in a maternity hospital in 
the same area that killed pregnant women and newborn babies.

   Soon after the bombing, angry crowds attacked ambulances and even beat 
health workers as they tried to evacuate the wounded, Health Ministry spokesman 
Ghulam Dastigar Nazari said. He had implored residents to cooperate and allow 
ambulances free access to the site.

   Arian, the Interior Ministry spokesman, blamed the attack on the Taliban 
despite their denials.

   Bloodied backpacks and schools books lay strewn outside the Syed Al-Shahda 
school. In the morning, boys attend classes in the sprawling school compound 
and in the afternoon, it's girls' turn.

   On Sunday, Hazara leaders from Dasht-e- Barchi met to express their 
frustration with the government failure to protect ethnic Hazaras, deciding to 
cobble together a protection force of their own from among the Hazara community.

   The force would be deployed outside schools, mosques and public facilities 
and would cooperate with government security forces. The intention is to 
supplement the local forces, said Parliamentarian Ghulam Hussein Naseri.

   The meeting participants decided that "there is not any other way, except 
for people themselves to provide their own security alongside of the security 
forces," said Naseri, who added that the government should provide local 
Hazaras with weapons.

   Naseri said Hazaras have been attacked in their schools, in their mosques 
and "it is their right to be upset. How many more families lose their loved 
ones? How many more attacks against this minority has to occur in this part of 
the city before something is done?"

   One of the students fleeing the school recalled the attack, the girls' 
screams, the blood.

   "I was with my classmate, we were leaving the school, when suddenly an 
explosion happened, " said 15-year-old Zahra, whose arm had been broken by a 
piece of shrapnel.

   "Ten minutes later there was another explosion and just a couple of minutes 
later another explosion," she said. "Everyone was yelling and there was blood 
everywhere, and I couldn't see anything clearly." Her friend died.

   Most of the dozens of injured brought to the EMERGENCY Hospital for war 
wounded in the Afghan capital, "almost all girls and young women between 12 and 
20 years old," said Marco Puntin, the hospital's program coordinator in 
Afghanistan.

   In a statement following the attack, the hospital, which has operated in 
Kabul since 2000, said the first three months of this year have seen a 21 per 
cent increase in war-wounded.

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

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

   The top U.S. 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.

 
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