19 dead after blast in Kabul hits education centre

A suicide bomber struck an education centre in a Shia area of the Afghan capital on Friday, killing 19 people and wounding 27, a Taliban-appointed spokesman for the Kabul police chief said.

Victims include high school graduates taking practice university entrance exams

Relatives and medical staff shift a wounded girl from an ambulance outside a hospital in Kabul on Friday, following a blast at a learning centre in the Dasht-e-Barchi area of Afghanistan's capital. The attack killed 19 people as students prepared for university entrance exams, police said. (AFP/Getty Images)

A suicide bomber struck an education centre in a Shia area of the Afghan capital on Friday, killing 19 people and wounding 27, including teenagers who were taking practice entry exams for university, a Taliban spokesman said.

The morning explosion at the centre took place in Kabul's Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood, an area populated mostly by ethnic Hazaras, who belong to Afghanistan's minority Shia community. The Islamic State group has carried out repeated, horrific attacks on schools, hospitals and mosques in Dasht-e-Barchi and other Shia areas in recent years.

Around 300 recent high school graduates, boys and girls, had come to the Kaaj Higher Educational Center at 6:30 a.m. to take practice exams, said one survivor, 19-year-old Shafi Akbary. The facility helps students prepare and study for the entrance exams, among other activities.

About an hour into the session, the blast went off.

"First, we heard the sounds of a few gunshots at the main gate. Everyone was worried and tried to run to a different direction," said Akbary, speaking to The Associated Press over the phone. "Soon after that, a huge explosion occurred inside the centre."

Akbary, who was unharmed, said he saw dozens of bodies and wounded people scattered around him. "I was so afraid and couldn't even move myself to help them. Later, other people ran inside and took us out," he added. Akhbary said he has attended classes at the centre the past six months

No claim of responsibility

Khalid Zadran, the Taliban-appointed spokesman of the Kabul police who gave the casualty toll, said students were among the victims of the blast, but he did not specify how many. He said education centres in the area will need to ask the Taliban for additional security when they host events with big gatherings like Friday's exam preparation.

Police have arrested a suspect who may have links to the attack, Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Nafi Takor said later. He was unable to provide any updates on the casualties.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. But the Islamic State group, the chief rival of the Taliban, has been waging a campaign of violence that has intensified since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in August 2021.

The U.S. charge d'affaires for Afghanistan, Karen Decker, condemned the attack in a tweet.

"Targeting a room full of students taking exams is shameful; all students should be able to pursue an education in peace and without fear," she said. "We hope for a swift recovery for the victims and we grieve with the families of the deceased."

The United Nations children's fund said it was appalled by Friday's horrific attack, adding that violence in or around educational establishments was never acceptable.

"This heinous act claimed the lives of dozens of adolescent girls and boys and severely injured many more," UNICEF tweeted. "Children and adolescents are not, and must never be, the target of violence."