Suicide bomber targeting Shia students in Kabul kills at least 48

A suicide bomber killed at least 48 students preparing for university exams in a predominately Shia neighbourhood in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, in an attack blamed on ISIS.

Attack comes during particularly bloody week in war-torn Afghanistan

Security personnel arrive at the site of a deadly suicide bombing that targeted a private education centre in the Shia neighbourhood of Dasht-i Barcha, in western Kabul, on Wednesday. (Rahmat Gul/Associated Press)

A suicide bomber struck a private education centre in a Shia neighborhood in Kabul on Wednesday where high school graduates were preparing for university entrance exams, killing 48 young people and leaving behind a scene of devastation and tragedy.

The bombing, blamed on ISIS, was the latest assault on Afghanistan's Shia community, which has increasingly been targeted by Sunni extremists who consider Shias to be heretics.

It also showed how militants are still able to stage large-scale attacks, even in the heart of Kabul, and underscored the struggles of the Afghan forces to provide security and stability on their own.

The attack comes amid a particularly bloody week in Afghanistan that has seen Taliban attacks kill scores of Afghan troops and civilians.

It was not immediately clear how the bomber managed to sneak into the building, used by the Shia community as an education centre, in the Dasht-i Barcha area of Kabul.

'Blood everywhere'

A spokesperson for the public health ministry, Wahid Majroh, said 67 people were also wounded in the bombing and that the death toll — which steadily rose in the immediate aftermath of the attack — could rise further. He did not say if all the victims were students or whether any of their teachers were among the casualties.

Dawlat Hossain, father of 18-year-old student Fareba who had left her class just a few minutes before the bombing but was still inside the compound, was on his way to meet his daughter and started running when he heard the explosion.

Hossain recounted to The Associated Press he saw parts of human bodies all over student desks and benches upon entering Fareba's classroom.

Afghan security personnel patrol in the city of Ghazni province west of Kabul on Sunday. (Mohammad Anwar Danishyar/Associated Press)

"There was blood everywhere, all over the room, so scary and horrible," he said. After finding out that his daughter was safe, he helped move the wounded to hospitals.

Fareba was traumatized that so many of her friends were killed, but Hossain said she was lucky to be alive.

The explosion initially set off gunfire from Afghan guards in the area, leading to assumptions that there were more attackers involved, but officials later said all indications were that there was only one bomber.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but Jawad Ghawari, a member of the city's Shia clerical council, blamed the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which has carried similar attacks in the past, hitting mosques, schools and cultural centres.

'Deplorable' attack condemned

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the "terrorist" attack that "martyred and wounded the innocent" — students attending class — and ordered an investigation into the bombing.

 "By targeting educational and cultural centers, terrorists have clearly shown they are against all those Islamic principles (that strive) for both men and women to learn and study," Ghani said in a statement.

The UN Security Council condemned the bombing as a "heinous and cowardly terrorist attack," saying that it "underlined the need to hold perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism accountable and bring them to justice."

The head of the UN children's agency denounced the attack, saying it's "deplorable" that children continue to be hardest hit in the growing violence across Afghanistan.

"Children are not, and must never be the target of violence," said UNICEF's executive director Henrietta Fore.

Violent few days

Meanwhile, a Taliban assault on two adjacent checkpoints in northern Afghanistan late on Tuesday night killed at least 30 soldiers and police officers.

Dilawar Aymaq, a parliamentarian from Baghlan, said the attack targeted a military checkpoint and another manned by the so-called local police, militias recruited and paid by the Interior Ministry.

At least nine security forces were still missing and four others were wounded in the attack, said Abdul Hai Nemati, the governor of Baghlan. He said reinforcements have been dispatched to help recapture the checkpoints.

This Afghan family escaped from the volatile city of Ghazni in Maidan Shar, west of Kabul, on Monday. (Rahmat Gul/Associated Press)

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, the Taliban attacked a police checkpoint in the southern Zabul province early Wednesday, killing four policemen, according to the provincial police chief, Mustafa Mayar.

The Taliban have seized several districts across the country in recent years and carry out near-daily attacks targeting Afghan security forces.

Also Wednesday, six children were killed when they tinkered with an unexploded rocket shell, causing it to blow up, said Sarhadi Zwak, spokesperson for the governor of the eastern Laghman province. The victims were girls, aged 10-12, who were gathering firewood, he said, blaming the Taliban.