A deadly blast that occurred as girls were streaming out of high school in Afghanistan has killed at least 30 people and injured 52, with most of the victims believed to be female.
The explosion in the capital Kabul is the latest in a string of recent bombings and comes amid escalating violence since the US announced plans last month to pull out all troops by September 11.
It occurred in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood which is home to the minority Hazara community who have suffered numerous deadly attacks in sports halls, cultural centres and education buildings.
Footage on TV channel ToloNews showed chaotic scenes outside the school, with books and school bags strewn across a bloodstained road, and residents rushing to help victims.
No-one has yet claimed responsibility but the Hazara, who are followers of Shia Islam, have been targeted in a campaign by Islamic State (IS) who view them as heretics.
About a year ago, 24 women, children and babies were killed in an attack on a maternity unit.
However President Ashraf Ghani has blamed Saturday’s attack on the Taliban.
“The Taliban, by escalating their illegitimate war and violence, have once again shown that they are not only reluctant to resolve the current crisis peacefully and fundamentally, but are complicating the situation,” Mr Ghani said.
Since US president Joe Biden’s announcement troops would be leaving the country after 20 years, the Taliban has stepped up attacks across the country.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied the insurgent group’s involvement and condemned the latest incident.
The school is a joint high school for girls and boys, who study in three shifts, the second of which is for female students, Najiba Arian, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Education, told Reuters.
The wounded are mostly female students, she said.
At a nearby hospital, staff wheeled in injured students while dozens of distressed relatives searched for their sons and daughters, according to a Reuters witness.
A spokesman for the interior ministry, Tariq Arian, said the death toll was at least 30 with 52 injured.
European Union’s mission in Afghanistan condemned the attack.
“The horrendous attack in Dasht-i Barchi area in Kabul, is a despicable act of terrorism,” the European Union’s mission wrote on Twitter.
“Targeting primarily students in a girls’ school, makes this an attack on the future of Afghanistan.”
The Taliban and United States last year signed an agreement to end the 20-year war, which started with US and allied forces invading Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attacks by al Qaeda, whose leader, Osama bin Laden, was being given shelter by the Taliban government.
Under the agreement, Washington was to pull out troops in exchange for Taliban security guarantees and for the group to start peace talks with the Afghan government.
Talks began last year but have since stalled.
Taliban attacks on foreign forces have largely ceased, but they continue to target government forces. A number of journalists, activists and academics have also been killed in attacks blamed on the Taliban, who deny involvement.
Last month, Washington said it was pushing back the troop withdrawal deadline from May 1 to September 11, which the Taliban warned could have consequences for the agreement.
Washington’s top diplomat in Afghanistan, Ross Wilson, condemned the attack in a post on Twitter: “With scores murdered, this unforgivable attack on children is as assault on Afghanistan’s future, which cannot stand.”
Neighbouring Pakistan, which has considerable influence over the Taliban and is pushing the group to restart peace talks and agree to a ceasefire, also condemned the attack.