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Grief and despair in Afghanistan neighbourhood as it buries girls killed in bombings

“They were our family, our friends. More importantly, they were our blood, our people,” one woman told NBC News.

KABUL — Their grief quickly turned to impotent rage.

All but 7 or 8 of the 58 killed in Saturday’s bombings in Kabul’s Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood were schoolgirls going home after finishing their studies and on Sunday the anger was unmistakable, as was the fear of further attacks.

“They were our family, our friends. More importantly, they were our blood, our people,” one woman told NBC News at the scene of the explosions, where she had gathered after funerals held in line with Islamic law, which calls for burials to take place as soon as possible. She said she did not want to give her name because of fear of reprisals.

Books, notebooks and other school supplies are left behind after deadly bombings on Saturday near a school in Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 9, 2021.
Books, notebooks and other school supplies are left behind after deadly bombings on Saturday near the school.Mariam Zuhaib / AP

As the crowds grew, some shed tears, others blamed the government for failing to protect the neighborhood, predominantly made up of members of the Shiite Hazara community which is frequently targeted by the Islamic State and other Sunni Muslim militant groups in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"We told them so many times that something would happen, but we never got help from the authorities,” said Hussain Ali, 25, who lost his 16-year-old cousin Tayeba in the attack. Her sister Kobra, 17, was also badly injured, he said.

He added that people had warned authorities about a potential attack but they had not sent proper protection. Local officials were not immediately available for comment.

Many feared further attacks as U.S. and NATO troops continue to leave the country with a mission to complete the drawdown by Sept. 11. The withdrawal has already seen a surge in fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban insurgents as both sides try to retain control over strategic centers.

Others like Amir, 34, decried the nature of the explosions which he said were designed to cause “maximum carnage.”

After a car bomb was detonated in front of the Sayed Al-Shuhada school, two more bombs exploded when the students ran out in panic.

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“They know people will rush to the scene of each bomb, they just wanted to create crowd after crowd,” Amir said.

“There was a thick black smoke. You couldn’t look in any direction without seeing some body part,” added Zolaikha, a mother whose home is only a few feet from the school.

Both said they were too frightened of reprisals to give their last names.

In the chaos after the attack, Abdul Husseini said people started to smash the windows of the ambulance which was transporting his daughter Zahra, 12, to hospital.

“Both of my daughter’s legs have been badly injured and burned, but no one outside seemed to care,” he said.

As the crowds grew, so did the anger, much of aimed at the country’s government and security forces. Many pointed to previous attacks in the neighborhood.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, although Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani was quick to blame Taliban insurgents who he said in a tweet, had “once again shown their unwillingness to resolve the crisis peacefully and fundamentally by escalating the illegitimate war.”

But Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, denied the group was involved. In a tweet, he said it condemned any attacks on Afghan civilians and instead he blamed Islamic State-linked militants for the attack.

Their words meant little to those grieving in Dasht-e-Barchi, some of whom were still collecting bodies from the morgues. Other families were still searching for missing relatives on Sunday, gathering outside hospitals to read names posted on the walls, and checking morgues.

“How long should we sit silent and let them kill us,” a grey-haired old man, wearing a turban screamed as people crowded round. He would not give his name. “Stand up for yourselves, we need to rise up for ourselves,” he added.