A powerful suicide bomb explosion ripped through a packed classroom in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, early Friday, killing at least 19 students and injuring 27 others.
Victims in the incident include girls. Witnesses and police officials said the bombing occurred inside the Kaaj Education Center in the western Dash-e-Barchi area of the city, a predominantly Hazara Shiite neighborhood.
Khalid Zadran, a Kabul police spokesperson, confirmed the casualties to VOA and denounced the violence. He said that Taliban security forces had reached the area and an investigation is under way.
“Students were preparing for an entry exam when a suicide bomber struck the educational center. Unfortunately, 19 people have been martyred and 27 others wounded,” Zadran said.
Survivors told local media there were 400 boys and girls, separated by a curtain, in line with Taliban instructions, taking mock university entrance exams when the bomber hit them. They reported a much higher death toll.
An official at Kaaj educational center told VOA on condition of anonymity that at least 25 students were killed and 35 others wounded.
No one immediately took responsibility for the bombing.
Social media videos and photos showed bloodied victims being carried away from the scene to nearby hospitals.
The head of the U.S. diplomatic mission to Afghanistan condemned Friday’s attack. “Targeting a room full of students taking exams is shameful; all students should be able to pursue an education in peace & without fear,” Chargé d’Affaires Karen Decker said on Twitter. “We hope for a swift recovery for the victims & we grieve with the families of the deceased.”
UNICEF said it was “appalled by the horrific attack” and denounced as “never acceptable” violence in or around education establishments.
“This heinous act claimed the lives of dozens of adolescent girls and boys and severely injured many more,” UNICEF tweeted.
The local offshoot of the self-proclaimed, Sunni-based, Islamic State group, known as Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, has previously claimed credit for plotting such attacks in the area and elsewhere in Afghanistan.
ISIS-K has intensified its extremist activities in the country since the Taliban seized power in August of last year, when all U.S.-led foreign troops withdrew from Afghanistan after almost 20 years of war.
Shiite Hazara Afghans are seen as the most persecuted community in the country. In April, bomb blasts at two educational institutions in Dasht-e-Barchi killed six people and injured 20 others.
Just before the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last year, several bombs exploded simultaneously near a school in the same area, killing at least 85 people, mostly girls who were students, and wounding 300 others.