Suicide Attack Kills 24 Students and Tests Afghan Faith in Peace

Mohammad Hussain Safari wanted a university education so badly he was willing to chance extra tutoring at a private institute in the Afghan capital Kabul. On Saturday the 19-year-old was dead, along with 23 others after a suicide bomber attacked the center.

Another 70 students were wounded in the attack which was claimed by the Islamic State group that is active in parts of the war-ravaged nation, according to Tariq Arian, a spokesman for the country’s interior ministry.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemned the attack, calling it a serious violation of international law and a possible war crime, his spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said in an e-mailed statement.

The intensifying violence in Afghanistan is destroying all hopes among the locals about the possibility of peace, especially as talks between the government and Taliban militants in Doha, Qatar, appear to make little progress. The U.S.-facilitated negotiations began on Sept. 10 and have had no impact on reducing the bloodshed -- last week, Taliban militants killed 34 Afghan troops in the Takhar area in the country’s north and renewed fighting in the southern Helmand province has forced thousands of civilians to flee.

The Taliban have ignored Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s caution against using violence as leverage in the negotiations. His national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, recently said the rise in attacks kills dozens everyday.

In a statement on the group’s website Saturday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed denounced officials and troops working for the administration as “a bunch of criminals and mercenaries who have opposed Islam, and despite their proclamation of faith, their killing is not prohibited.”

“Whenever we try to make peace in the country, a horrible misery comes in,” said Ahmad Rassoul, an undergraduate law student at Kabul University. “We’re extremely desperate to see peace in reality after 40 years of devastation.”

The Kawsar Danish institute -- preparing students for the annual university entrance exams -- was located in a Shia neighborhood of Kabul making it especially vulnerable. Another institute in the same area had been attacked by Islamic State militants in 2018, killing some 40 students.

“I told him several times not to study mathematics or science at this training center that was a likely target,” said Safari’s brother, Jawad Safari. “He said ‘Kabul and the whole country is under threat and I can’t wait until the endless violence ends’.”

There’s also rising fear of increased Islamic State recruitment in Afghanistan, with the militants hoping to gain power while the Taliban are looking to become part of the future government. It has been behind some of the most devastating attacks in the country, including a prison attack in Jalalabad in August that killed 29 and an attack on a wedding party in Kabul last year that killed 60 and wounded scores more.

“They target our brightest minds to achieve their malign objectives,” said Nooria Nazhat, a spokesman for the country’s ministry of education, by phone. “This type of attack can have some negative psychological impacts for the short term on students but will never stand against our resolve towards better education.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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