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Bomb kills more than 30 people near school in Afghan capital

A blast ripped through an area near a high school in the Afghan capital Saturday, government officials said, killing more than 30 people — many of them schoolchildren — and wounding scores of others.

So far no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred some time after 4 p.m. and appeared timed to cause maximum damage: when dozens of mostly teenage schoolgirls were leaving the Kawsar Institute, an educational center near the Sayed Ul-Shuhada High School in west Kabul’s Dashti Barchi neighborhood, with families out shopping before Iftar, the evening breaking of the Ramadan fast.

The area is heavily dominated by the Hazara, an ethnic minority that is Shiite Muslim and a frequent target of Islamic State.

Many of the casualties were taken to the Mohammad Ali Jinnah hospital in west Kabul, with people coming forward to donate blood for the wounded. Elsewhere, parents and family members began the grim task of burying their dead. The Interior Ministry said at least 30 people were killed, with 52 others wounded. The death toll was expected to rise.

In the hours after the blast, residents and journalists shared harrowing images of students sprawled on the ground, with schoolbooks and blood-spattered sneakers scattered around them.

It remained unclear if the attack was the work of a solitary suicide bomber with an explosive vest walking up to the institute’s gates, a car bomb or a series of explosions involving rockets as part of a larger onslaught on Dashti Barchi.

Whatever the cause, the blast, which coincides with U.S. and NATO troops filtering out of the country, intensifies fears of increased violence against minorities in the country’s post-withdrawal future. Meanwhile, talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government have stalled, with the group beginning a spring offensive that has seen a new wave of attacks across the country.

The Taliban denied involvement in the explosion.

“We condemn today’s blast in Dashti Barchi #Kabul which targeted civilians & sadly caused heavy losses,” tweeted Zabiullah Mojahid, a Taliban spokesman, on Saturday.

Instead, he blamed the attack on “sinister circles operating in the name of Daesh under the wings & intelligence cover of #Kabul admin,” referring to Islamic State by its Arabic acronym.

The Sunni extremist group counts Shiites as apostates who must be killed. It claimed responsibility for similar explosions in the area in October as well as August 2018, with students the main victims of both attacks.

The United Nations’ mission in Afghanistan expressed “its deep revulsion” at the blast in a tweet Saturday evening, describing it as “an atrocity” that had killed and injured many civilians.

U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Ross Wilson tweeted, “This terrorist attack on a Kabul girls’ school is abhorrent. With scores murdered, this unforgivable attack on children is an assault on Afghanistan’s future, which cannot stand. My deepest condolences to the students & families who have suffered.”

Even as Islamic State has been degraded in Afghanistan, according to government and U.S. officials, it has stepped up its attacks particularly against Shiite Muslims and female workers.

Earlier the group took responsibility for the targeted killing of three female media personnel in eastern Afghanistan.

The attack comes days after the remaining 2,500 to 3,500 American troops officially began leaving the country. They are to be out by Sept. 11 at the latest. The pullout comes amid a resurgent Taliban, which controls or holds sway over half of Afghanistan.

The top U.S. military officer said Sunday that Afghan government forces face an uncertain future and possibly some “bad possible outcomes” against Taliban insurgents as the withdrawal accelerates in the coming weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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