Assault on American University in Kabul Killed at Least 13, Officials Say

New York Times, August 25, 2016

KABUL, Afghanistan — An overnight assault on the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul ended with at least 13 people killed and dozens wounded, after a 10-hour siege in which trapped students hid in terror as gunmen stalked the halls.

Abdul Basir Mujahid, a spokesman for the Kabul police, said two gunmen had made it past the university’s security after another attacker, a suicide bomber, detonated explosives in a vehicle to clear an entrance.

Seven students, three police officers, two university guards and one guard who worked for a school for the blind, just next door to the university, were among the dead, Mr. Mujahid said. Thirty others were wounded, he said. The bomber and both gunmen were also killed.

Khawaja Qamaruddin Sediqi, an adviser at the Afghan Ministry of Health, provided slightly different figures, saying that 14 people had been killed and nearly 50 others wounded.

President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack as “barbaric” and described it as an act of enmity against progress and development.

“Terrorists and their sponsors should know that the people and government of Afghanistan will continue on the path that they have chosen despite the hardships,” Mr. Ghani said in a statement. “Attacking educational institutions and public places and targeting civilians will not only fail to shake our determination, but will further strengthen it to fight and eradicate terror.”

By Thursday afternoon, no group had claimed responsibility, though a statement from Mr. Ghani’s office suggested that suspicion had fallen on the Haqqani wing of the Taliban, or some other Pakistan-based faction. The statement said that initial intelligence suggested the attack had been orchestrated from Pakistan, and Mr. Ghani called the Pakistani army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, and “asked for serious and practical measures against the terrorists organizing the attack.”

For much of the night, family members of the people trapped inside the university gathered outside a security cordon, hoping for news of their loved ones. Some students inside took to social media to ask for help, but they later fell silent — possibly for safety reasons, to avoid alerting the gunmen to their locations.

Afghan special forces cut off the area’s electricity and began evacuating hundreds of students, moving slowly in an attempt to avoid civilian casualties, said Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. The siege was declared over shortly before 5 a.m. on Thursday.

Established in 2006, the American University quickly became a prestigious choice for some of Afghanistan’s brightest students, offering undergraduate and graduate degrees to men and women alike, with courses taught in English. As insurgents have ramped up their attacks recently against sites associated with foreigners, forcing expatriates in Kabul to restrict their movements, the university has remained an obvious potential target, a symbol of Western ambitions for a progressive Afghanistan.

Among the dead was Naqib Ahmad Khpulwak, a young lecturer in the university’s law department, who had recently completed a master’s degree in the United States through the Fulbright program and had returned home to teach.

“Your master’s degree is still lying in my pile of papers — you told me to get it stamped and approved,” one his friends in the United States, Ayub Khawreen, wrote in a Facebook post. “My mouth be broken that I encouraged you to return home. But you wouldn’t listen to me anyway — you were boiling in your love for the country, and at the end you burned in that.”

Some of the people who had been trapped inside the university described a 10-hour ordeal, much of it spent waiting for death in complete darkness.

Abdullah Frotan, a student who was trapped until the very end of the siege, said he had been in a third-floor classroom when the initial explosion occurred. About 10 students in his class tried to make it to the first floor to escape, but the gunmen were already inside the building, so they rushed back to the third floor and tried to hide in a classroom.

“We were lying like dead bodies on the ground in the rear of the class, and we put all the chairs in front of us, and we hid behind the chairs,” Mr. Frotan said. “They fired at us from the corridor, and they searched the class with a flashlight from the corridor, but it was too dark, and I think they did not see us or they thought we were dead.”

Two of his classmates were wounded, one in the back and one in the leg, Mr. Frotan said. They held their hands over their mouths to stifle cries of pain that could alert the attackers.

“One of our classmates did not come back with us to the third floor. He was killed; we learned this later,” Mr. Frotan said.

In a separate attack Thursday morning in the northern province of Balkh, in the Kholm district, an explosion targeting an Afghan lawmaker killed five people and wounded nine others, officials said.

The target of the explosion was the lawmaker Asadullah Sharifi, who escaped uninjured, but all the victims were civilians, said Munir Ahmad Farhad, a spokesman for the governor of Balkh Province.