An explosion near a school in a Shia district of west Kabul has killed at least 30 people, many of them young female students, Afghan government spokesmen said.
Ambulances rushed to evacuate the wounded from the scene of the blast on Saturday near Syed Al-Shahda school, in the Shia majority neighbourhood of Dasht-e-Barchi, Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said.
He did not specify the cause or the target of the explosion.
Ghulam Dastagir Nazari, spokesman for the health ministry, said 46 people had been taken to hospitals so far.
Kabul is on high alert since Washington announced plans last month to pull out all US troops by September 11, with Afghan officials saying the Taliban has stepped up its attacks across the country.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued a statement condemning the attack, blaming the Taliban even as the group denied it. He offered no proof.
“The Taliban, by escalating their illegitimate war and violence, have once again shown that they are not only reluctant to resolve the current crisis peacefully and fundamentally, but by complicating the situation,” Ghani said.
The Taliban condemned the attack, apparently aimed at civilians, and denied any responsibility.
It took place in a neighbourhood that has frequently been attacked by ISIL (ISIS) fighters over the years.
Al Jazeera’s Filio Kontrafouri, reporting from Kabul, said the attack happened about 5:30pm Kabul time.
She said witnesses reported three explosions that happened back to back, and “they were talking about girls who were panicking, who started running around, crying, calling for their mothers as others were trying to transfer as many as they could to hospital”.
“The entire city is numb after this attack.”
The school is a joint high school for girls and boys, who study in three shifts, the second of which is for female students, Najiba Arian, spokeswoman for the education ministry, told Reuters news agency.
The wounded are mostly female students, she said.
‘Despicable act of terrorism’
The European Union mission in Afghanistan condemned what it said was an “horrendous attack”.
“[This] … is a despicable act of terrorism,” the mission said on Twitter.
“Targeting primarily students in a girls’ school makes this an attack on the future of Afghanistan. On young people determined to improve their country.”
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) expressed its “deep revulsion” at the blast.
In May last year, a group of gunmen attacked a hospital in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood in a brazen daylight raid that left 25 people killed, including 16 mothers of newborn babies.
No group claimed that attack, but President Ghani blamed the Taliban and ISIL.
On October 24, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a tuition centre in the same district, killing 18 people including students in an attack that also went unclaimed.
Saturday’s attack comes days after the remaining 2,500 to 3,500 American troops officially began leaving the country.
They will be gone by September 11 at the latest. The pullout comes amid a resurgent Taliban, which controls or holds sway over half of Afghanistan.
Under an agreement signed by the Taliban and the US last year, Washington was to pull out troops in exchange for Taliban security guarantees and for the group to start peace talks with the Afghan government. Talks began last year but have since stalled.
The top US military officer said on Sunday that Afghan government forces face an uncertain future and potentially some “bad possible outcomes” against Taliban fighters as the withdrawal accelerates in the coming weeks.