1 October 2022
The death toll from a suicide bombing at an education centre in the Afghan capital has risen to 35, according to the United Nations mission to the country, as women reportedly took to the streets to protest against the targeting of the Hazara ethnic minority.
At least 82 others were wounded in Friday’s attack at the Kaj education centre in Dasht-e-Barchi, home to a large Hazara community located in western Kabul, according to the UN mission.
The toll is higher than the casualty numbers Kabul authorities have so far released.
“Majority of casualties are girls and young women,” the mission tweeted on Saturday. “All names need documenting and remembering and justice must be done.”
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred in a women’s section of the centre where young people had gathered to take a mock university exam.
However, the local ISIL (ISIS) affiliate, a rival to the Taliban, has claimed responsibility for similar attacks on education centres in recent years, including a suicide attack on an education centre in the same neighbourhood that killed 24 in 2020.
At least 85 people were also killed in another unclaimed attack near a school in Dasht-e-Barchi in May 2021.
The Taliban, which swept to power amid a foreign troop withdrawal in August 2021, has promised to bring stability to the country after 20 years of war, but a spate of recent violence has undermined that narrative.
On Friday, the AFP news agency reported that more than 50 women defied a Taliban ban on rallies to call for an end to violence against the Hazara people, who have alleged years of persecution by the ruling Taliban while being repeatedly targeted by ISIL attacks.
The group chanted “stop Hazara genocide, it’s not a crime to be a Shia”, as they marched past a hospital in Dasht-e-Barchi where several victims of the attack were being treated, according to an AFP correspondent.
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, according to the news agency.
Al Jazeera however, could not independently verify the reports of protests.
Women’s protests have become increasingly risky since the Taliban came to power, with numerous demonstrators detained in past rallies or broken up by Taliban forces firing shots in the air.
Rights groups have called on the Taliban to better protect the country’s residents.
Amnesty International described Friday’s attack as a “shamefaced reminder of the inaptitude and utter failure of the Taliban, as de-facto authorities, to protect the people of Afghanistan”.
Meanwhile, the organisation’s South Asia campaigner, Samira Hamidi, said the Taliban has done little to protect ethnic minorities since taking power.
“Their actions of omission and commission have only further aggravated the risk to the lives of the people of Afghanistan especially those belonging to ethnic and minority communities,” she said in a statement on Friday.
The Norwegian Refugee Council also condemned the attack, calling on the authorities to take steps to ensure that educational facilities are protected.
“An education centre filled with youth preparing for exams should be a venue for joy, focus and excitement – never awash with blood and horror,” Neil Turner, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s country director in Afghanistan, said in a statement.