KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Afghan officials Wednesday raised the death toll from a militant attack on a maternity hospital in Kabul the previous day, saying 24 people were killed, including two newborn babies, their mothers and an unspecified number of nurses.
Militants stormed the hospital in Dashti Barchi, a mostly Shiite neighborhood in the western part of Kabul, Tuesday morning, setting off an hours-long shootout with police. As the battle raged, Afghan security forces struggled to evacuate the facility, which is supported by the aid group Doctors Without Borders, carrying out babies and frantic young mothers.
Interior Ministry spokesman Tareq Arian said Tuesday that 16 people were killed in the attack and over 100 women and babies were evacuated from the building under fire. The new death toll of 24 came from Wahid Majroh, the deputy public health minister, who spoke at a press conference Wednesday. He said 16 were wounded in the attack.
Of those evacuated, 21 newborn babies were initially brought to Kabul’s Ataturk Hospital, where physician Sayed Fared said staff were providing medical care.
â€œOne newborn baby had a fractured bone and we referred that baby to the Indira Gandhi Children’s hospital,” he told The Associated Press. â€œThe other 20 babies are hospitalized here and are in good health and under our observation.â€
Outside Ataturk Hospital, anxious relatives waited for news.
Qurban Ali, a 27-year-old father, came to see his newborn daughter Bakhtawar who was among those evacuated from Dashti Barchi. His name was on a wristband the baby was given after she was born early Tuesday, a preterm baby.
Ali said he was watching TV when he heard about the hospital attack.
â€œI immediately rushed to the hospital, got there but couldnâ€™t find my wife or the baby,â€ he said. His wife called him a short while later, crying and saying she had managed to flee the attack but couldnâ€™t recover their baby. The two rushed to Ataturk Hospital after hearing the babies were evacuated there, and to their relief, found Bakhtawar.
â€œThank God … my child and my wife both are unhurt,â€ said Ali.
But others were not so fortunate. The family of 35-year-old nurse Maryam Noorzada, who worked at Dashti Barchi with Doctors Without Borders, also known by their French acronym MSF, could not find her after searching all of Kabul hospitals.
Her brother-in-law, Mahdi Jafari, his eyes filled with tears, told the AP the family would give DNA samples to see if the single charred, unclaimed body remaining at the morgue after the attack was her.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack but the Taliban insisted they were not involved. In the past, most attacks in Dashti Barchi, home to the minority Shiite Hazara community, were carried out by the Islamic State group.
In a televised speech hours after the attack, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced that Afghan security forces would no longer operate in the defensive posture taken in the wake of the peace agreement. Instead, he called on security forces to launch attacks against Taliban insurgents.
â€œThe Taliban have not given up fighting and killing Afghans, instead they have increased their attacks on our countrymen and public places,â€ despite repeated calls for a cease-fire, Ghani said.
In recent months, Afghan and American officials say the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan has been weakened as a result of relentless U.S. bombing raids in the group’s stronghold – eastern Nangarhar province – as well as military operations by Afghan security forces and attacks by IS rivals, Taliban insurgents.
In a separate attack Tuesday, a suicide bomber targeted the funeral in Khewa district of a local pro-government militia commander and former warlord who had died of a heart attack Monday night, killing 32 people and wounding 133, according to Zahir Adil, spokesman for the province’s public health department. Earlier reports had 24 dead and 68 wounded in the bombing.
The dead included Abdullah Lala Jan, a provincial council member, while his father Noor Agha, a lawmaker, was wounded in the attack. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the Nangarhar bombing in a statement posted late Tuesday on its media arm, Aamaq.
Associated Press writers Tameem Akhgar in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.