A Kabul student survived an attack on his classroom. Two years later, his brother died in a suicide bombing at the same place.
By Sharif Hassan and Pamela Constable,
Wakil Kohsar AFP/Getty Images
KABUL — In the spring of 2018, Mohammad Reza Bahadur was studying for his college entrance exams when a man wearing a suicide vest entered the classroom. Failing to set off his explosives, he detonated a grenade, wounding six students and killing himself.
Unnerved but determined, Bahadur was accepted to Kabul University. He urged his younger brother, who hoped to attend medical school, to take the same prep course at the Kawsar-e-Danish center in west Kabul.
On Saturday his brother, Ghulam Abbas Ramanzani, was just leaving class when a suicide bomber tried to enter the facility, then blew himself up in the alley outside. The powerful blast killed 24 people, mostly students, and wounded 70 others.
Ramanzani, 18, died almost instantly, his family said.
“I feel lonely without him,” Bahadur said Sunday, sitting morosely in the family’s home and trying to console their mother, who was weeping in a corner. “He understood me better than anyone in our family. His only crime was that he was a Hazara and a Shiite who wanted to get an education.”
Ghulam Abbas Ramanzani was killed in Saturday’s suicide attack in Kabul.
The bombing, like dozens that have targeted Kabul’s minority community of ethnic Hazara Shiites, was claimed by the Islamic State, a Sunni extremist group that views Shiites as apostates. The group, known here as Daesh or ISIS-K, has bombed mosques, shrines, schools, gyms and public gatherings in the district known as Dasht-i-Barchi.
But this time, the attack resonated far beyond the minority enclave. An especially horrific crime in the crowded capital, it reinforced growing public alarm at a spate of more distant violence by Taliban insurgents.
The Taliban has denied any connection with the education center bombing, and its relations with the regional Islamic State affiliate have been contentious. But many Afghans, including senior officials, said Sunday that the attack might have been executed or inspired by the Taliban. The group has staged recent attacks across 24 provinces, even while it holds peace talks in Qatar with Afghan government delegates from Kabul.
“The Taliban and ISIS-K share the same ideological gene,” Vice President Amrullah Saleh tweeted Sunday. “They are together at a tactical level now.”
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Tariq Aryan, called the bombing “the continuation of crimes by the Taliban and their allies . . . against education centers, holy places and clinics.”
On Sunday, a large gathering of Islamic clerics in Kabul condemned all violence against civilians. “Do not kill or harm the Afghan people for the sake of power,” stated one cleric, Maulawi Salam Abed. The group called on all sides in the Afghan conflict to “preserve the sanctity of the Koran” and end the war.
The attack came as the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported that 2,117 civilians had been killed and 3,822 wounded between January and September, fewer than in any similar period since 2012 and 30 percent fewer than in 2019.
The report attributed the decline mostly to a drop in suicide bombings and foreign airstrikes, while noting that targeted killings and Afghan airstrikes had increased. It said Taliban-caused casualties were down by 24 percent and those caused by the Afghan army were up by the same percentage. It did not include the recent surge of Taliban attacks and fighting.
The Dasht-i-Barchi bombing also struck a special chord because it targeted an educational facility, full of eager teenagers hoping to get into college.
Afghan men look for their relatives at a hospital after the bombing in Kabul.
It echoed another deadly bombing in Dasht-i-Barchi in August 2018, in which 48 students at the Mowud Education Center were killed.
Higher education remains very limited in Afghanistan, especially for girls, with only 14 percent of men and 5 percent of women reaching college, according to the World Bank. Hazaras, long relegated to menial roles in society, place an especially high value on advanced education for both sons and daughters.
Both facilities are known for sending graduates to the best institutions in the country and helping Hazara families of limited means boost their children’s chances for success.
Some community leaders have said the bombings are aimed at destroying an up-and-coming minority generation. Advanced education is considered anathema to extremist groups because it encourages young people to challenge orthodoxy.
Ramanzani, like his older brother, was a part of that generation, brought up with few resources but encouraged to excel intellectually. On Sunday, relatives at his burial described him as a quiet young man who spent most of his time studying but also worked out at a gym.
“Abbas had good character, he was talented, and he wouldn’t harm anyone,” said one relative, Hafiz Nik Ahmadi, weeping as other mourners shoveled dirt into his grave at a barren cemetery overlooking west Kabul.
A fellow student at the center, 18-year-old Mohammad Fahim Muradi, said he was studying Saturday afternoon in the hostel next door when he heard a loud boom. “A strong wave blew out the windows and door. The room went dark,” he said. “I was very scared.”
Outside, Muradi said, he found the alley “full of wounded and dead bodies. Everywhere was covered with blood, dust and debris.”
Relatives said Ramanzani had probably been close to the bomber and died immediately. His body was found in the alley with shrapnel in his head, abdomen and leg.
Meanwhile, though, one of Ramanzani’s cousins, Mohammad Hussain Tawakoli, had tried to reach him by cellphone, then rushed from hospital to hospital and finally spotted his name on a list of deceased patients.
“That is a very difficult moment,” he said. “I hope no one else ever has to experience it.”
Men take part in a burial ceremony for one of the victims of Saturday’s suicide bombing in Kabul.