Just days before a cease-fire planned around the Islamic Eid al-Fitr holiday is set to occur, a series of bombings around Afghanistan claimed the lives of dozens of Afghan civilians, including many women and children. According to The Wall Street Journal, Saturday’s attack specifically targeted a Hazara school just as girls finished with classes for the day.
The first attack, according to The Daily Mail, occurred around 4:30 p.m. Saturday, in the Dasht-e Barchi neighborhood of Kabul. It targeted a school in the predominantly Shiite Hazara part of the city, which was just releasing students for the day. A series of explosions detonated outside the school, taking the lives of at least 85 people, while wounding at least another 147.
“As Afghanistan’s Shia minority, the Hazara people have long been the target of sectarian attacks. This attack is a reminder that there are many terrorist and insurgent groups inside Afghanistan who do not want peace,” Luke Coffey, director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy at The Heritage Foundation, told Coffee or Die Magazine.
The school itself hosts both male and female students, who attend in gender-specific shifts. On Saturday, however, only female students were in attendance.
According to The Wall Street Journal, several eyewitnesses described a scene where three separate blasts targeted the students as they were exiting the school for the day. The first blast was initiated by a minivan, with the second and third blasts occurring roughly 10 minutes after the first in an apparent attempt to target those responding to calls for aid.
“I rushed to the scene (after the blasts) and found myself in the middle of bodies, their hands and heads cut off and bones smashed,” said local resident Mohammad Taqi, according to the Daily Mail; his own two daughters escaped the attack. “All of them were girls. Their bodies piled on top of each other.”
We condemn today's blast in Dashti Barchi #Kabul which targeted civilians & sadly caused heavy losses.
These are the actions of sinister circles that are operating in the name of Daesh under the wings & intelligence cover of #Kabul admin.
— Zabihullah (..ذبـــــیح الله م ) (@Zabehulah_M33) May 8, 2021
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah condemned the attack against the school, placing blame on the Islamic State group, or ISIS, which is also known as Daesh. No group has yet to claim responsibility for the attack, and according to the Daily Mail, the Taliban said they have not carried out attacks in Kabul since signing the Doha Agreement in February of 2020.
According to The Wall Street Journal, past attacks targeting Afghanistan’s Hazara community have been claimed by the Afghan Islamic State group affiliate. That group considers Shiites to be “heretics” who have rejected Islam. The Taliban previously oppressed the Hazara community while they had control in the 1990s but now claim to tolerate the Shiite minority.
The attacks against the civilian population, the Hazara in particular, are likely intended to spark tensions between the civilian population and the Afghan government. According to The Wall Street Journal, following Saturday’s attack on the Hazara schoolchildren, residents turned their anger toward police responding to the scene and attacked them. Many Hazara criticize the central government for failing to protect them from violence.
“Such attacks continue to alienate the Hazara minority from the government,” Ibraheem Bahiss, an analyst focusing on Afghan affairs, told The Wall Street Journal.
In the last year, the Islamic State group executed a number of attacks against the Hazaras in Kabul. This includes an attack on a maternity clinic in May 2020 that claimed the lives of at least 16; on an educational center in October of 2020, killing at least 24; and on Kabul University in November, killing at least 22 people.
According to the Daily Mail, an additional attack occurred Monday in Zabul province. A bomb went off next to a bus carrying civilians, killing at least 11 and wounding 28.
“It is important to understand that horrific violence against civilians has been common in Afghanistan throughout the last 40 years of war, even when the United States had a large military footprint in the country and actively engaged in prosecuting the conflict,” Will Ruger, vice president for research and policy at the Charles Koch Institute, told Coffee or Die Magazine.
“So we shouldn’t connect these attacks too tightly to the withdrawal,” Ruger said. “But it does suggest that Afghanistan is going to continue to be messy for some time until the local balance of power is sorted out and one side or both conclude it is better to deal diplomatically than to continue fighting.”