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 young pupils between 11 and 15 years old. 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 death toll was expected to rise further.
The bombing, apparently aimed to cause maximum civilian carnage, adds to fears that violence in the war-wrecked 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. Rahimi also said he believed that the sheer power of the explosion meant the death toll would almost certainly climb.
Rahimi said the explosion went off 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 fleeing the school recalled the attack. the screaming of the girls, the blood.
“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.
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 IS for a vicious attack last year in 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 purportedly showed bloodied school backpacks and books strewn across the street in front if the school, and smoke rising above the neighborhood.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced Thursday she won’t seek a second term, an election-year surprise that marks a sharp turnabout for the city’s second Black mayor who months ago was among those President Biden considered as a possible running mate. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called the decision “stunning.”
An emotional Bottoms held a press conference on Friday explaining her decision. She said that she had written two potential letters to the people of Atlanta — one announcing that she would remain in the mayoral race, and one announcing that she would would not run for reelection. Bottoms released the open letter announcing her decision to withdraw on Thursday evening.
“This has been my highest honor to serve as mayor of this city,” she said. “It is abundantly clear to me that it is time to pass the baton on to someone else.”
Bottoms said that her decision was not due to family reasons, but in large part because of the upheaval during her term.
“The last three years have not been at all what I would’ve scripted for our city,” Bottoms said. She referenced a massive cyber attack, recent racial justice problems and “a madman in the White House,” meaning former President Trump.
“I don’t know what’s next for me personally and for our family. But what I do know is that this is a decision made from a position of strength, not weakness,” Bottoms said. She noted that she had raised a significant amount of money, and said that she would win the race if it was held today. Bottoms added that she had made her decision “after thoughtful prayer and consideration.”
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Bottoms said she would offer to refund the donations to her mayoral campaign. She also said that she would try to “leave the city better than I left it,” and would work through the end of her term to “continue to do every single thing in our power to make this city safer.”
Bottoms said that she was making her announcement now to give candidates the opportunity and time to “fundraise and organize a campaign.” She added that she is not making an endorsement but “has a pretty good idea who it should not be.” Bottoms challenged the idea that she was bowing to political pressure by deciding not to run for reelection.
“I may bend, but I will never break,” she said.
Bottoms, 51, disclosed her decision publicly in the lengthy open letter and accompanying video Thursday night after having told family and a close circle of associates and supporters.
The tweeted letter began with the words, “Dear Atlanta.”
“It is with deep emotions that I hold my head high and choose not to seek another term as mayor,” Bottoms wrote, saying she’d prayed about the decision with her husband, Derek, an executive at the Home Depot Inc.
She scheduled a news conference for Friday morning.
Bottoms, who narrowly won a runoff election four years ago, pushed backed against any questions about whether she could have secured a second victory later this year. She pointed to a March reelection fundraiser with Mr. Biden and said polls showed her in a strong position.
“‘Is she afraid of the competition?’ NEVER,” Bottoms wrote.
The Journal-Constitution noted that the fundraiser was the first headlined by the president since he took office and drew over $500,000, which it called “a sign of her strong financial standing and national political connections.”
The newspaper said her move “creates a wide-open mayor’s race this year, and is likely to open the door for a slew of new candidates.”
City Council President Felicia Moore has already announced her mayoral bid.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is seen at the Essence Festival at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 7, 2018, in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms at the Essence Festival at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 7, 2018, in New Orleans.
PARAS GRIFFIN/GETTY IMAGES FOR ESSENCE
CBS Atlanta affiliate WGCL-TV spoke with political analyst Rashad Richey, who said crime rates in the city could have led to Bottoms’ decision. He said to expect the flood gates to open for potential candidates, including City Council members Antonio Brown, Amir R. Farokhi and Andre Dickens.
Bottoms’ tenure has been a mix of rough-and-tumble City Hall politics and an ever-brightening national spotlight for her.
She was among Mr. Biden’s earliest endorsers, taking a risk early in a crowded Democratic primary campaign. She was later rewarded as one of the women he considered to be his running mate, though he eventually chose another Black woman, Kamala Harris, then a California senator who is now the first woman to hold the national office.
Bottoms nonetheless watched her profile rise during the coronavirus pandemic and with the renewed attention on policing in the United States after George Floyd’s killing by a white Minneapolis officer last spring.
She drew plaudits for a nationally televised news conference in which she chided protesters to “go home” while noting her own experiences as a mother of Black sons to empathize with citizens distraught over police violence. She pledged to review Atlanta’s police procedures in the wake of Floyd’s killing.
Yet Bottoms met criticism herself just weeks later when an Atlanta police officer shot and killed Rayshard Brooks. The officer, Garrett Rolfe, was fired last June, a day after he shot the Black man in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. Rolfe was later charged with murder.
The Atlanta Civil Service Board on Wednesday reversed the firing, finding that the city didn’t follow its own procedures and failed to grant Rolfe due process. Bottoms said then that Rolfe would remain on administrative leave while criminal charges against him are resolved.
The mayor didn’t mention Floyd or Brooks in her announcement letter, focusing instead on having giving the city’s police and firefighters raises and alluding to a “social justice movement (that) took over our streets ….and we persisted.”
Bottoms came to the mayor’s office as an ally of her predecessor, Kasim Reed, whose endorsement proved critical in her campaign. But she sought to establish her own identity, in no small part because of a long-running FBI investigation of City Hall contracts and finances during Reed’s tenure.
The “far-reaching and ever-growing” investigation, she said Thursday, “consumed City Hall, often leaving employees paralyzed, and fearful of making the smallest of mistakes, lest they too be investigated, or castrated on the evening news.”
Bottoms has never been implicated.
Early in her term, Bottoms eliminated cash bail in Atlanta and ended the city jail’s relationship with federal immigration enforcement agencies, joining big-city mayors around the country in criticizing then-President Trump’s hardline immigration policies. Her administration navigated a cyberattack on the city’s computer systems early in her tenure.
She helped renegotiate the long-term redevelopment of “The Gulch,” part of the city’s old railroad footprint downtown. But the city didn’t score the biggest potential prize for the location: the second Amazon headquarters that instead is being built in northern Virginia, outside Washington, D.C.
An Atlanta native and graduate of Florida A&M University, a prominent historically Black college, Bottoms is just the second Black woman to lead the city. She joined Shirley Franklin, who served two terms from 2002-2010. Bottoms noted her family’s deep ties to the city and surrounding region whose history traces Black America’s arc from slavery and Jim Crow segregation to the ongoing legacy of institutional racism.
“My ancestors, direct descendants of the once enslaved, traveled by horse and buggy from the cotton fields of east Georgia in search of a better life for themselves and their children in Atlanta,” she wrote. “I have carried their belief for a better tomorrow in my heart, their earnest work ethic in my being, and their hopes for generations not yet born on my mind, each day that I have been privileged to serve as the 60th Mayor of Atlanta.”
At one nearby hospital, Associated Press 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.
Outside the Muhammad Ali Jinnah Hospital, dozens of people lined up to donate blood, while family members checked casualty posted lists on the walls.
Both Arian and Nazari said that at least 50 people were also wounded, and that the casualty toll could rise. The attack occurred just as the fasting day came to an end.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, and 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 IS, although he offered no evidence.
The Taliban and the Afghan government have traded accusations over a series of targeted killings of civil society workers, journalists and Afghan professionals. While IS has taken responsibility for some of those killings, many have gone unclaimed.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued a statement condemning the attack, blaming the Taliban even as they denied it. He offered no proof.
IS has previously claimed attacks against minority Shiites in the same area, last year claiming two brutal attacks on education facilities that killed 50 people, most of them students.
Even as the IS has been degraded in Afghanistan, according to government and US officials, it has stepped-up its attacks particularly against Shiite Muslims and women workers.
Earlier the group took responsibility for the targeted 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 pullout comes amid a resurgent Taliban, who control or hold sway over half of Afghanistan.
The top U.S. military officer said Sunday that Afghan government forces face an uncertain future and possibly some “bad possible outcomes” against Taliban insurgents as the withdrawal accelerates in the coming weeks.
Associated Press photographer Rahmat Gul and video journalist Ahmad Seir in Kabul, Afghanistan and Kathy Gannon in Islamabad, Pakistan contributed to this report.