KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A teenage suicide bomber attacked a French-run high school in Kabul on Thursday, walking into a packed auditorium during a theater performance and killing a German citizen, Afghan officials said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the performance underway was immoral. Ironically, the subject of the musical play was the aftermath of a bombing.
It was the first attack on a foreign target in the Afghan capital in more than a week and came after a series of insurgent bombings in the past month targeted foreigners, killing a British embassy security and three members of a South African family.
Acting interior minister, Mohammad Ayoub Salangi said the person killed was German, while police chief Gen. Abdul Rahman Rahimi identified the victim as a man, without giving more details.
The attack took place inside the auditorium of the French Cultural Centre, which is on the grounds of a high school known as Lycee Estaqlal, run under contract by the French government.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier condemned the "cowardly attack" but did not confirm that a German was killed.
Salangi said 10 Afghan citizens were also wounded in the attack, including journalists covering the event. The bomber, who wore explosives hidden in his clothing, was probably around 16 years old, Salangi added.
"The attack is particularly perfidious because it happened at a cultural institute where Afghans and helpers from the international community come together for friendly exchanges and because it is directed against those people who are supporting the country in building a better future," Steinmeier said.
Germany plans to deploy up to 850 soldiers to the NATO-organized training and advisory mission in Afghanistan from January, which will take over after the alliance's combat troops leave the country.
The United Nations Security Council condemned the attack "in the strongest terms," called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice, and reiterated that "no terrorist act can reverse the path towards Afghan-led peace, democracy and stability in Afghanistan."
French President Francois Hollande said he condemned the "odious attack" and extended France's solidarity to the victims and their families. "By attacking this target, the terrorists were targeting culture and creativity," Hollande said.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said there were no French citizens among the wounded.
At the time of the attack, the center was hosting a musical play entitled, "Heartbeat: Silence After the Explosion," written and performed by the local Azdar Theatre Company.
In their claim of responsibility, the Taliban said the play was immoral, and held under the aegis of the "foreign invaders". All civil society gatherings were potential targets, the Taliban statement said. Music, movies and other forms of entertainment were banned during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan when the militant group practiced an extreme version of Islam.
One eyewitness said that the bomber walked into the cultural center's amphitheater as she was leaving and detonated his explosives inside the building.
"A lot of my friends are in there and I don't know what has happened to them," said Khadija, an artist who like many Afghans uses only one name.
Other witnesses said the explosion happened at the back of the hall, near an array of television cameras and journalists covering the event.
The head of Media Watch, an Afghan press freedom watchdog, Sidiqullah Thawhidi said three journalists — two cameramen and a reporter from Mitra Television Network — were among the wounded.
Also among the wounded was Naser Sarmast, a renowned musician and head of the Musicians' Institute of Afghanistan who was in the audience.
"I was watching the drama, my students were preforming music, I heard a blast and fell down," Sarmast told The Associated Press. "I thought it was part of the drama, until I touched my head and saw that it was bleeding and I fell down again."
The school, which is close to the Presidential Palace in the heart of Kabul, was established in 1922 and used only French as a teaching medium until 1985. It is administered by Afghanistan's Education Ministry and is currently under contract to the French government's Agency for Teaching French Abroad.
French Embassy official Yves Manville said the French government funds the school and provides some of the teachers, focusing mostly on cultural activities.
Actor Homan, who also uses one name and who was in the play, said it envisaged the aftermath of an explosion through the reincarnated souls of its victims.
"There was a big explosion and we just ran from the stage. It was horrible," he said.
Afghanistan's insurgency has intensified in recent months and the violence is expected to continue as the U.S.-led international military mission winds down toward the end of the year. U.S. and NATO soldiers will draw down to around 13,000 from Jan. 1, from a peak in 2010 of 140,000, as the Afghan security forces assume full sovereignty over the country's security.
Analysts say the Taliban are choosing foreign targets to ensure maximum publicity.
Earlier Thursday, a suicide bombing targeted a military minibus and killed six Afghan soldiers and wounded 10 people, said Farid Afzali, the chief of criminal investigation for Kabul police. He said the wounded included civilians.
"The suicide bomber was on foot," said Hashmat Stanikzai, spokesman for the Kabul provincial police chief.
The Taliban also claimed that attack.
Associated Press writers Geir Moulson in Berlin and Greg Keller in Paris contributed to this report.