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‘Every Afghan is angry’: protesters unite following school blast

Dozens of Afghan students were killed in the attack on Friday but plans to rebuild are already underway as the community rallies round to defend their right to learn

It was Friday, a weekend day in Afghanistan when the founder of Kaaj Education Institution received the call. A suicide bomber had attacked a class full of students at the Dasht-e-Barchi branch in Kabul, dozens were dead. Reaching the scene, Mukhtar Modabber realized the extent of the damage. “I saw a lot of dead people. One was my sister. We tried to move the bodies, but there were no ambulances, we did it all by ourselves.”

The UN mission in Afghanistan

According to the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, 53 students were killed and over 100 injured in the attack on September 30, which targeted students as they sat mock tests in preparation for their university entrance exams. So far, no group has taken responsibility for the blast but speculation has pointed to ISIS.

Mukhtar Modabber address his students.

It’s not the first time the school, a private education facility with branches across Afghanistan, has been attacked by militants. This branch, located in a predominantly Shiite Muslim neighbourhood, was attended by students from the minority Hazara population, who have been subject to a series of devastating attacks over recent years.

In 2018, there were over 100 casualties following an attack on the school, which subsequently moved to a new location, rebranding and investing in more security before reopening their doors. This time though, they will stay put and rebuilt the shattered classrooms so students can continue to study in their community. “Countless times this has happened in this area, but people here still want to fight and continue the struggle for their right to education,” Modabber, 30, says.

The damage he describes is substantial, with windows shattered, ceilings destroyed, doors blown out and chairs melted by the blast. But the students and their families, including some of those whose children died in the blast, were outside the school on Saturday morning offering to help rebuild and clean up the mess. “They want to continue studying and we promised that we are going to do everything we can to rebuild and start again,” Modabber says. 

Ideas Beyond Borders has provided a grant to cover the cost of restoring the school and hiring extra security to protect students as they return to class. While people in the community are afraid, they are more horrified by the prospect of letting militant groups deny their children the opportunity to learn. “We cannot stop, if we do, these kids’ futures will be destroyed and we will have more violence and outrage in society,” Modabber says. “This is our way of pushing back against injustice and fighting towards a better future.” 

Protestor Vigil

By Sunday, demonstrations against the attack had spread to several provinces across Afghanistan, with young women turning out to defend their right to education under the Taliban, who have banned girls from attending school after sixth grade. Most of those killed in the blast were young women aged between 18 and 24. “We were marching together and chanting for justice for our Hazara sisters who were murdered yesterday. This is a genocide of the Hazaras and all we want is education and freedom,” one Hazara woman told The Guardian.

Reports of Taliban violence towards protesters has fuelled anger as people from different communities come together to express their outrage. “All ethnicities have joined together with the Hazaras in these protests because this attack was inhumane – the people killed were just kids, not politicians, not soldiers, just kids,” says Modabber. “People are extremely tired (of this violence)…every Afghan is angry over this.” 

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