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Bombing Kills at Least 30 Near School in Afghan Capital Amid US Troop Withdrawal

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A bomb exploded near a girls’ school in a majority-Shiite district of west Kabul on Saturday, killing at least 30 people, many of them students between 11 and 15 years old. The death toll was expected to rise further.

The Taliban condemned the attack and denied any responsibility.

Ambulances evacuated the wounded as relatives and residents screamed at authorities near the scene of the blast at Syed Al-Shahda school in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said.

The bombing, apparently meant to cause maximum civilian carnage, adds to fears that violence in the war-torn country could escalate as the U.S. and NATO end nearly 20 years of military engagement.

Residents in the area said the explosion was deafening. One, Naser Rahimi, told The Associated Press he heard three separate explosions, although there was no official confirmation of multiple blasts.

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Rahimi said the explosion happened as the girls were streaming out of the school at around 4:30 p.m. local time. Authorities were investigating the attack but have yet to confirm any details.

One of the students recalled the attack.

“I was with my classmate, we were leaving the school, when suddenly an explosion happened, “ said 15-year-old Zahra, whose arm had been broken by a piece of shrapnel.

“Ten minutes later there was another explosion and just a couple of minutes later another explosion,” she said. “Everyone was yelling and there was blood everywhere, and I couldn’t see anything clearly.” Her friend died.

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While no one has claimed responsibility for the bombing, the Afghan Islamic State affiliate has targeted the Shiite neighborhood before.

The radical Sunni Muslim group has declared war on Afghanistan’s minority Shiite Muslims. Washington blamed ISIS for a vicious attack last year at a maternity hospital in the same area that killed pregnant women and newborn babies.

In Dasht-e-Barchi, angry crowds attacked the ambulances and even beat health workers as they tried to evacuate the wounded, Health Ministry spokesman Ghulam Dastigar Nazari said. He implored residents to cooperate and allow ambulances free access to the site.

Images circulating on social media showed bloodied school backpacks and books strewn across the street in front of the school, smoke rising above the neighborhood.

At one nearby hospital, AP journalists saw at least 20 dead bodies lined up in hallways and rooms, with dozens of wounded people and families of victims pressing through the facility.

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Outside the hospital, dozens of people lined up to donate blood, while family members checked casualty lists posted on the walls.

Both Arian and Nazari said that at least 50 people were wounded and that the casualty toll could rise.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters in a message that only the Islamic State group could be responsible for such a heinous crime. Mujahid also accused Afghanistan’s intelligence agency of being complicit with ISIS, although he offered no evidence.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued a statement condemning the attack, blaming the Taliban even as they denied it. He offered no proof.

ISIS has previously claimed attacks against Shiites in the same area, including two brutal attacks last year on education facilities that killed 50 people, most of them students.

Earlier the group took responsibility for the killing of three women 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 will be out by Sept. 11 at the latest.

The withdrawal comes amid a resurgence of the Taliban, which controls or holds sway over half of Afghanistan.

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