KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A powerful bomb exploded outside the gates of Kabul University in the Afghan capital on Friday, killing at least eight people and wounding 33, according to police and health officials.
Several of the wounded were in critical condition, they said.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, the latest to target Kabul. Both the Taliban and the Islamic State group often stage large-scale bombings in the city. The Taliban generally target Afghan forces and government officials and the Islamic State also often attacks minority Shiites.
The early morning blast also set two vehicles ablaze although it wasn’t clear if the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber or a remotely detonated bomb, said Kabul police spokesman Ferdous Faramarz.
The casualty tolls were released by the Health Ministry spokesman, Dr. Wahidullah Mayar, who tweeted: “All the wounded patients were evacuated to our hospitals and have been receiving the required treatment.”
After initial reports of six dead, Mayer said two people died of their wounds and that the number of wounded rose to 33, following reports from hospitals around the city.
The university compound houses several hostels where many students stay over the summer, attending classes and working on research projects. The university is co-ed and has women attending classes alongside men, something the Taliban oppose, saying they accept education for women but that it should be segregated.
Though Friday is the start of the weekend in Afghanistan, Massoud, an economics professor at the university who like many Afghans uses only one name, said that several lawyers were taking their exams to become judges when the explosion occurred.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the lawyers were the target. In recent months, at least two professors at Kabul University with alleged links to Afghanistan’s Islamic State affiliate have been arrested, and last year the wall that surrounds the university was emblazoned with graffiti reading, “Long Live Daesh,” the Arabic name for the Islamic State group.
A U.S. Department of Defense intelligence official told The Associated Press that the IS affiliate has stepped up efforts to recruit students from Kabul’s universities, particularly those who are tech savvy, to expand the group’s strength and reach. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk to the media.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said he was not aware of any Taliban involvement in Friday’s attack.
In a 2016 attack, 13 people were killed, mostly students, and more than 40 people were wounded when militants attacked the American University in Kabul. In that attack, a car bomb exploded outside the university gates, followed by a blistering, hours-long attack in which gunmen roamed through the compound shooting at students and teachers.
Also on Friday, a roadside mine killed five people who were riding in a car in eastern Ghazni province. Their identities were not immediately known. There was no claim of responsibility for that attack, though the Taliban control vast sections of the province.
The Taliban control roughly half of Afghanistan now and are at their strongest since the 2001 defeat when the U.S.-led invasion toppled their five-year government that had harbored al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was killed in a 2011 U.S. Navy SEAL raid of his compound in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad. Pakistan’s military and intelligence leaders have repeatedly denied any knowledge of bin Laden’s presence in their country.
Gannon reported from Islamabad.