The death toll from a powerful bomb blast near a girls’ school in the Afghan capital Kabul has risen to more than 60, with more than 100 others injured.
The Saturday evening bombing occurred in the city’s Shi’ite Muslim majority neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi.
Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said mostly young students were among the victims.
Witnesses said the carnage outraged area residents, who even attacked the ambulances, hampering rescue efforts because they were so upset with the government for failing to provide better security.
It was not immediately known whether the blast was caused by a planted device or a suicide bomber.
No one immediately took responsibility for the deadly attack. A spokesman for the Taliban insurgent group denied involvement, saying they condemn any attacks against Afghan civilians.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned what he called the horrific attack according to his spokesman Stephane Dujarric. He said, “Those responsible for this heinous crime must be held accountable.”
The United Nations office in Kabul condemned the attack as an “atrocity” and expressed its “deep revulsion” at it.
The acting U.S. ambassador in Kabul, Ross Wilson, denounced as “abhorrent” Saturday’s terrorist attack.
“With scores murdered, this unforgivable attack on children is as assault on Afghanistan’s future, which cannot stand. My deepest condolences to the students & families who have suffered,” Wilson tweeted.
The area in Kabul where Saturday’s bombing occurred has suffered deadly attacks previously, and most of them were claimed by the Islamic State terrorist group.
Last year, gunmen assaulted the maternity ward of the main hospital in Dasht-e-Barchi, killing at least 24 women, children and babies.
“An attack near a school in a Shia area of Kabul. Kids among the dead. This is beyond evil,” tweeted Michael Kugelman, deputy Asia program director at Washington’s Wilson Center research group.
“Targeting suggests ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] was behind it, though if so, it may not claim responsibility as that increases the likelihood that its Taliban rival will be blamed,” Kugelman said, using an acronym for Islamic State.
“Incompetence at Afghan intelligence services: couldn't they predict this when a hospital, schools and wedding halls have already been targeted in Barchi?” asked Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan government adviser and analyst.
The violence comes a week after the remaining U.S. and NATO troops began exiting Afghanistan, with a mission to complete the drawdown by September 11.
The foreign troop withdrawal also has seen a spike in fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban insurgents.
Fern Robinson contributed to this report.