The Standard (St. Catharines)

Families bury schoolchil­dren as Afghan bombing death toll rises

Many teenage students among 50 people killed in explosions at girls’ school

- RAHIM FAIEZ

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 spokespers­on Tariq Arian. In the western neighbourh­ood 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 neighbourh­ood.

“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-ebarchi neighbourh­ood, 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 neighbourh­ood 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 centre 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 spokespers­on Ghulam Dastigar Nazari said. He had implored residents to co-operate and allow ambulances free access to the site. Arian, the Interior Ministry spokespers­on, 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.

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

 ?? MARIAM ZUHAIB THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Books, notebooks and other school supplies are left behind after deadly bombings on Saturday near a school in Kabul, Afghanista­n.
MARIAM ZUHAIB THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Books, notebooks and other school supplies are left behind after deadly bombings on Saturday near a school in Kabul, Afghanista­n.

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