Afghanistan pupils in fear after spate of Islamic State attacks


Milad is packing his rucksack for the first time since his school in the west of Kabul was attacked by extremists last month. The 15-year-old pupil wasn't hurt when the first bomb went off, but his father raced to the scene to try to find him, only to be killed in a second explosion.

A poster commemorating Mir Hossein hangs outside the family home, along with a few verses of poetry. "Through your blood, you gave meaning to love," reads one line.

"It feels really hard to go back to school," Milad tells us, walking alongside his older brother and uncle. "My heart doesn't want me to."

Milad, and most of the residents in his neighbourhood, Dashte-e-Barchi, are members of the Shia Hazara minority. The area has been repeatedly attacked by the local branch of the Islamic State group, who are suspected of being behind the bombing at Milad's school.

"I was in the classroom about to leave when the explosion happened. We crouched down on the floor with our hands on our heads," Milad told the BBC.

After a while, he and the other pupils went outside, jumping over a wall into a neighbouring house. When he reached home, he heard his father had been injured. A short while later they received his dead body.


"My father was very kind and caring, he was a great support to me," he said ruefully.

The school opened up straight after the attack, but some pupils are yet to return, their families too afraid.

Headteacher Ghulam Haider Hussaini told the BBC he was determined not to allow the violence to deter his students.

"However many attacks happen, we will continue with our education. Because our religion teaches us, from the cradle to the grave, we must learn."

In recent weeks Shia and Sufi Muslim communities have been devastated by a series of bombings by IS, with around 100 people killed in attacks on mosques and minibuses as well as at Milad's school.

IS attacks have been taking place since long before the Taliban takeover last year, but they've now spread to new parts of the country, notably the north with blasts in Mazar-e Sharif and Kunduz.


As the Taliban captured Afghan cities last year, thousands of IS prisoners escaped from prison. IS has also managed to radicalise some members of Afghanistan's Tajik and Uzbek populations, whereas the Taliban are dominated by the Pashtun ethnicity.

IS have even, on two recent occasions it appears, fired across the border into neighbouring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Unlike the Taliban, which has repeatedly promised not to allow Afghan soil to be used to plan attacks abroad, IS has avowedly global ambitions.

IS is still far smaller than their fierce rivals the Taliban, however. The group does not control any territory but it does have deadly sleeper cells that have been targeting religious minorities in the country and Taliban patrols.

'We are attacked everywhere'

IS, made up largely of disgruntled Afghan and Pakistani Taliban members, accuse the Taliban of being too moderate, the Taliban label IS extremists.

There's a bloody irony to the Taliban, former insurgents themselves, now coming under fire. One local Taliban official in Kabul admits it's a strange feeling to be responsible for security in a city where he once planned attacks.

Many Afghans, even those not particularly supportive of the Taliban, hoped their arrival would mean the end of decades of fighting in the country. Overall levels of violence are significantly down but IS attacks have continued and they're challenging the Taliban's narrative that they've brought security.

Khalid Zadran is the spokesman for Kabul's Taliban-led police force.

"A coalition of international countries invaded," he says, "we defeated them, so we will be able to defend Afghanistan against these smaller attacks now."

Zadran describes the recent bombings as "cruel," adding, "god willing our brave police will be able to prevent such attacks." He points out that during the recent Eid festival no major incident occurred, but the Taliban have also been accused of trying to play down the threat from IS in public, anxious to appear in full control.

In the east of the country, where a few years ago IS managed to capture and control pockets of land, before being pushed back, the Taliban's intelligence department has been waging a bloody and murky war against the insurgents.

Elsewhere, on occasion the Taliban have announced successful raids on IS safe houses, or the arrest of their operatives. IS activity had significantly dropped off over the winter, however, the spate of recent attacks, which the group announced was part of its global campaign "avenging" the death of its leader in Syria, show it remains a threat.

In Hazara-dominated areas, like the Dashte-e-Barchi neighbourhood in Kabul, a sense of fear pervades every aspect of life.

Even passengers making the daily commute on minibuses serving as shared taxis have been targeted. Onboard one, everyone we speak to is conscious of the dangers.

"We are attacked everywhere," says Shah Jahan Shahid, an assistant professor on his way to work. "In school, in hospital, in university, in the street. But we don't have any option to save ourselves, we are living in blood."

Back at Milad's school, he's leaving shortly after having arrived. Sitting and studying there still feels too difficult for now.

"My father was always there for me," he tells the BBC. "Now he is no more."