The back-to-back blasts struck at the heart of the capital’s minority Shiite Hazara community, just outside the prominent Abdul Rahman Shahid school, where dozens of students were leaving after morning classes.
Many of the victims were teenage boys in the 11th and 12th grades. One of them, Reza Alizada, 18, said he was walking out of the front gate with some classmates around 10 a.m. when a blast knocked him flat. Late that evening, he limped painfully out of Jinnah Hospital, with dried blood on his collar and an IV catheter taped to one arm.
“There were a lot of us leaving, and many of my classmates were hit like me. I don’t know what happened to them,” Alizada said. Whoever carried out the attack, he said, “does not want people in our community to be educated. They want us to give up hope. But I want to go back, as soon as I can walk.”
No group had claimed responsibility by Tuesday night, but the attacks were similar to previous strikes attributed to the Afghan branch of the Islamic State, known as ISIS-K. The Sunni extremist group views Shiites as apostates and has a history of targeting the Hazara community.
The second blast, in an alley outside the high-walled school compound, went off 10 minutes after the first, as family members and others rushed to the site. A few blocks away, witnesses said, there was a third explosion at the Mumtaz education center, a private facility where students study for college entrance exams, but there was no official confirmation of any casualties there.
By noon, Taliban police had cordoned off the blocks surrounding the Shahid school, while hundreds of students huddled inside. One of the largest schools in the Afghan capital, it has a daily attendance of 16,000 boys and girls, who study at different times and in separate classrooms under the strict rules of the Taliban government.
Shahid has a reputation for high student achievement and success in college exams. The surrounding community, Dasht-i-Barchi, is poor, but parents there are highly motivated to educate their children.
Since 2015, the Islamic State has either claimed or been blamed for dozens of attacks on the Shiite community in Kabul, especially at educational and religious sites. In May, two bombings outside the gates of another large high school in Dasht-i-Barchi, the Syed al-Shahda school, killed at least 90 people, many of them girls who were walking home from afternoon classes.
In March 2018, the extremist group claimed an assault on a large Shiite shrine in the community that wounded at least 60 people. The same month, a would-be suicide bomber detonated grenades at a private education center, wounding six students inside a crowded study hall.
Outside Jinnah Hospital on Tuesday evening, several men searching for victims on a list of 22 emergency room patients said they were angered but not surprised by the latest attacks. They were reluctant to mention the Islamic State by name.
“We know this is a systematic effort to weaken our community, especially our education,” said Abdul Hamid, 30, a laborer, who was looking for a missing cousin. He said the cousin, who attends Shahid, was “a very intelligent boy” who had been practicing for his college entrance exam.
Others expressed concern that the new Taliban authorities had not provided better security in the area. When the Taliban came to power, many Shiites feared a sectarian crackdown, but Taliban officials have stated they will not discriminate against any group and will protect all citizens. Education officials in the new government have praised Shahid for its educational achievements and its careful separation of girls and boys.
Jawad Timoori contributed to this report.