Gunmen stormed the sprawling campus of Kabul University in‘s capital on Monday morning, forcing thousands of students to flee in a panic. An unclear number of students were taken hostage by the assailants, but there was little information amid the chaos of the attack.
“Several terrorists and enemies of knowledge entered Kabul university,” confirmed Tariq Arain, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Interior, adding that police had already “rescued many people.” Amid reports that at least 10 people were killed in the attack, Arain said he could not provide figures but he confirmed there were fatalities.
A student named Milad Kohistani posted a photo on Facebook showing his face bloodied and asking for prayers and help. “My classmates were killed and wounded in front of my eyes, and we have been taken hostage,” he wrote.
Masooma Jafari, spokeswoman for the Afghan public health ministry, said at least eight people were taken to a Kabul hospital with unspecified injuries. Casualty figures were expected to rise as a gun battle between the assailants and security forces was underway on the campus.
A military official confirmed that the NATO-led Resolute Support mission was providing support to Afghan security forces as they responded to the incident. U.S. forces were among those to respond.
Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who has been tasked by President Ashraf Ghani with security for the capital city, called the attack an “intelligence failure” and blamed it on the Taliban, accusing neighboring Pakistan of supporting the insurgents.
The militants “next door won’t be able to wash their conscience of this stinking and non-justifiable attack on Kabul university,” Saleh said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid sent a WhatsApp message to journalists soon after news of the violence broke, however, insisting the group had no part in the attack. Both the Taliban and the Afghan branch of ISIS are active in Kabul and have carried out attacks on schools and universities before.
Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the Afghan government’s High Council for National Reconciliation, which is overseeing ongoing peace talks with the Taliban, condemned the attack. “Targeting educational institutions is a heinous crime,” he said. “Students have the right to study in peace and security.”
The university was hosting a literary event, the “Afghanistan and Iran book exhibition,” at the time of the attack. A dozen high-ranking government officials, including ministers and the Iranian ambassador, were expected to attend.
According to its website, Kabul University is Afghanistan’s oldest public university, established in 1932. It has a student body of more than 17,000, but it was not clear how many students were on the campus, which is surrounded by a perimeter security wall, at the time of the attack.
Kabul’s universities have often been targeted in terror attacks in recent years. On October 25, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a hallway at the Kawsar-e Danish education center in Kabul, killing almost 30 students and leaving scores more wounded. ISIS claimed responsibility for that attack. Most of the victims were between 15 and 26 years old.
In 2016, Taliban militants attacked the American University of Afghanistan, also in the capital, killing 13 students, teachers and security guards.