UN raises Kabul classroom bombing death toll to 35 as women protest ‘genocide’

The Nation  |  Oct 02, 2022

 UN raises Kabul classroom bombing death toll to 35 as women protest ‘genocide’
KABUL   -   The death toll of a suicide bomb­ing on a Kabul classroom has risen to 35, the UN said Saturday, as Shiite Hazara women who bore the brunt of the attack staged a defiant protest against the “genocide” of their mi­nority community.

On Friday a suicide attacker blew himself up in a Kabul study hall as hundreds of pupils were taking tests in preparation for university entrance exams in the city’s Dasht-e-Barchi area. The western neigh­bourhood is a predominantly Shiite Muslim enclave and home to the mi­nority Hazara community -- a histor­ically oppressed group that has been targeted in some of Afghanistan’s most brutal attacks in recent years.

“The latest casualty figures from the attack number at least 35 fatal­ities, with an additional 82 wound­ed,” the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a statement.

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More than 20 of those killed were girls and women, it said.

The UN mission’s casualty figure is higher than the toll Kabul authori­ties have given.

An interior ministry official told AFP anonymously on Saturday that 25 people were killed and 33 wounded in the attack on the Kaaj Higher Educational Centre -- updat­ing an earlier toll of 20 killed and 27 wounded.

Since returning to power last Au­gust, security has been a sensi­tive topic for the Taliban and the hardliners have often been keen to downplay attacks challenging their regime. Meanwhile on Saturday doz­ens of Hazara women defied a Tali­ban ban on rallies to protest the lat­est bloodshed in their community.

Around 50 women chanted, “Stop Hazara genocide, it’s not a crime to be a Shiite”, as they marched past a hospital in Dasht-e-Barchi where several victims of the attack were being treated.

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Dressed in black hijabs and head­scarves, the protesters carried ban­ners that read: “Stop killing Hazaras”, an AFP correspondent reported.

Witnesses have told AFP that the suicide attacker detonated in the women’s section of the gender-seg­regated study hall. Wajiha, a survi­vor, saw her friends and male stu­dents scrabbling to escape from the hall after the attack.

“I saw boys climbing the com­pound wall and pulling girls along. I saw one boy who was himself in­jured but he kept pulling girls out,” Wajiha told AFP on Saturday.

Protester Farzana Ahmadi said the attack was “against the Hazaras and Hazara girls”. “We demand a stop to this genocide. We staged the protest to demand our rights,” she told AFP.

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Protesters later gathered in front of the hospital and chanted slogans as dozens of heavily armed Taliban, some carrying rocket-propelled-gre­nade launchers, kept watch.

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“Taliban urged to safeguard rights of all Afghans & stop using weap­ons to prevent right of peaceful pro­test,” the UN mission said on Twitter after the protest. Since the hardline Taliban returned to power, women’s protests have become risky, with nu­merous demonstrators detained and rallies broken up by Taliban forces firing shots in the air.

No group has claimed responsibil­ity for Friday’s attack.

But the Islamic State (IS) group regards Shiites as heretics and has previously claimed attacks in the area targeting girls, schools and mosques. The Taliban have also been accused by rights groups of tar­geting the Hazaras during their 20-year insurgency against the former US-backed government. Amnesty In­ternational said Friday’s attack was “a shamefaced reminder of the in­aptitude and utter failure of the Tal­iban, as de-facto authorities, to pro­tect the people of Afghanistan”. Since returning to office the Taliban have pledged to protect minorities and clamp down on security threats.

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