At least 20 people were killed and dozens wounded when gunmen stormed Kabul University on Monday as it hosted a book fair attended by the Iranian ambassador to Afghanistan, as per local media. Afghanistan media Tolo News reported that in the six-hours-long gun battle, over 40 people were wounded though officials have not commented on the casualties.
After the gunfire erupted, police surrounded the sprawling campus, Afghanistan media reported. A group of three gunmen stormed the campus when Afghan and Iranian officials were inaugurating a book exhibition at the university, Tolo News reported. Many students left the compound sharply after they were informed about the gunmen, a student told Tolo News.
Interior Affairs Ministry's spokesman Tariq Arian confirmed that a group of gunmen entered the Kabul University compound. He added that security forces were deployed at the scene.
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the “terrorist attack” on Kabul University and said that the “terrorists” are attacking academic centres after they were “defeated in Helmand”, reported Tolo News. Abdullah Abdullah, head of the reconciliation council, condemned the attack calling it “a heinous crime” and said, “students have the right to study in peace and security”.
Five hours into the fighting, sporadic grenade explosions and automatic weapons fire echoed down the empty streets surrounding the university's fenced compound. Afghan troops stood guard. Earlier, students were fleeing for their lives from the site.
Ahmad Samim, a university student, told reporters that he saw assailants armed with pistols and Kalashnikov assault rifles firing at the school, the country's oldest with some 17,000 students. He said the attack happened at the university's eastern side where its law and journalism faculty teach.
No group immediately took responsibility for the ongoing attack though the Taliban issued a statement saying they were not involved. However, suspicion immediately fell on the Islamic State group.
Afghan media reported a book exhibition was being held at the university and attended by a number of dignitaries at the time of the shooting. While Afghan officials declined to discuss the bookfair, Iran's semiofficial ISNA news agency reported Sunday that Iranian Ambassador Bahador Aminian and cultural attach Mojtaba Noroozi were scheduled to inaugurate the fair, which would host some 40 Iranian publishers. Iranian state television reported the attack occurred, but did not offer information on its officials.
Iranian diplomats have been targeted previously by attacks in the country and nearly sparked a war between the two countries. In 1998, Iran held the Taliban responsible for the deaths of nine Iranian diplomats who were working in its consulate in northern Afghanistan and sent reinforcements to the 950-kilometre- (580-mile-) long border that Iran and Afghanistan share.
As the sun slowly set over the Afghan capital, there were few details though the Taliban issued a statement denying they took part in the assault. The attack came as the insurgents are continuing peace talks with the US-backed government. Those negotiations, taking place in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, aim to help the U.S. Finally withdraw from America's longest war, though daily bloodshed continues and an Islamic State affiliate launches its own attacks on Shiites in the country.
In 2019, a bomb outside of the Kabul University campus' gates killed eight people. In 2016, gunmen attacked the American University in Kabul, killing 13. In October, the Islamic State group sent a suicide bomber into an education centre in the capital's Shiite dominated neighbourhood of Dasht-e-Barchi, killing 24 students and injuring more than 100. The Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan has declared war on Afghanistan's minority Shiite Muslims and have staged dozens of attacks since emerging in 2014.
Violence has been relentless in Afghanistan even as the Taliban and a government-appointed negotiation team discuss a peace agreement to end more than four decades of war in the country. The talks in Qatar have been painfully slow and despite repeated demands for a reduction in violence, the chaos has continued unabated.
A US deal with the Taliban in February set the stage for peace talks currently underway in Doha. The deal also allows for the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan. Meanwhile Monday, a vehicle hit a roadside mine in the country's southern Helmand province, killing at least seven civilians, most of them women and children, provincial governor spokesman Omer Zwak said.
with inputs from agencies