The number of people killed by explosions outside a school in Afghanistan has risen from 55 to 68, with doctors said to be struggling to care for the hundreds of others who are in hospital injured.
Multiple blasts on Saturday shook the Kabul neighbourhood of Dasht-e-Barchi, home to a large community of Shi’ites from the Hazara ethnic minority that has been targeted in the past by Islamic State militants, a Sunni militant group.
Students were essentially trapped after a car bomb initially detonated in front of the Sayed Al-Shuhada school, causing them to rush outside in panic where two more bombs then exploded.
Most of those dead were schoolgirls, who are believed to have been the target, officials said as families searched hospitals and morgues for their missing children.
While Afghan president Ashraf Ghani swiftly blamed the attack on Taliban members, a spokesperson for the organisation denied any involvement. So far, no group has claimed responsibility.
“The first blast was powerful and happened so close to the children that some of them could not be found,” an Afghan official, requesting anonymity, told Reuters.
It comes after an eyewitness also told the news agency that all but seven or eight of the victims were schoolgirls going home after finishing studies.
One 15-year-old who survived the blast told reporters yesterday she “couldn’t see anything” when the explosion went off.
“Everyone was yelling and there was blood everywhere,” Zahra, whose arm had been broken by a piece of shrapnel, told the AP news agency.
Pope Francis condemned the attack on Sunday from Vatican City, calling it an “inhuman act”, while UN secretary general Antonio Guterres gave his “deepest sympathies” to the families of the victims and to the government and people of Afghanistan.
Kabul has been on high alert since Joe Biden announced plans last month to pull out all US troops by 11 September. Officials have since reported a rise in attacks across the country, as Afghan security forces and Taliban insurgents fight to try to retain control over strategic centres.
The Taliban and the US last year signed an agreement to end their 20-year war, which started with US and allied forces invading Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks led by Al-Qaeda – whose leader, Osama bin Laden, was being given shelter by the Taliban government.
But families of the school blast victims are blaming the Afghan government and western powers for failing to put an end to violence and the ongoing war.
“The entire night we carried bodies of young girls and boys to a graveyard and prayed for everyone wounded in the attack,” said Mohammad Reza Ali, who has been helping families of the victims at a private hospital.
Security has been intensified across Kabul since the attack but authorities said they did not have the manpower to be able to provide security to all schools, mosques and other public centres.
“Why not just kill all of us to put an end to this war?” Mr Ali added.
Additional reporting by agencies