American University of Afghanistan closed after attack

The American University of Afghanistan has temporarily suspended operations “in the wake of the despicable terrorist attack on the university”, the university said in a press release issued Friday, two days after a horrendous attack on the university which killed 16, including seven students and a professor, and injured 53 in a 10-hour long raid by unidentified militants.

The attack began at 7pm on 24 August, when hundreds of students normally attend evening classes at the university. A suicide car bomb crashed into the outer security walls, enabling at least two militants armed with grenades and automatic weapons to enter the campus, said Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry.

"Most of the dead were killed by gunshots near the windows of their classrooms," said Sediqqi.

Some 200 students and others trapped in the university buildings were rescued by special police in the early hours of the morning. The ministry said two university security guards and three personnel of the National Security and Defense Forces were also killed in the raid.

The university said it did not have an exact date as to when operations will resume, but insisted “rumours that the university will close completely are untrue”, adding only that it has “already started the process to repair the damage caused by the attack so that the campus can reopen”.

“American University of Afghanistan is dedicated to its educational mission in service to Afghanistan and has no intention of giving in to terror. As our faculty member Naqib Ahmad Khpulwak, who was killed in this attack, had said, those who care about the future of Afghanistan cannot back down to insurgents and criminals who threaten a future of possibility. Our firm resolve is to move forward,” the statement said.

Speaking to the US broadcaster National Public Radio on Thursday, the university’s President Mark English said: “I don’t want conjecture [on] why we were attacked but I can tell you that as a university we are doing all we can to advance education of the young people in this country.”

“We produce graduates who go on to actually change things on a day-to-day basis in this country,” he said. “We will rebuild and we will reorganise and we will restart and we will not be deterred.”

Pakistan link

The attack was “orchestrated” from across the border in Pakistan, according to a statement from Afghanistan’s National Security Council, which met in an extraordinary session the day after the attack, according to the Pajhwok Afghan News agency.

In the National Security Council meeting, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani “spoke by phone with General Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s chief of army staff, and asked for serious and practical measures against the terrorists organising the attack. General Sharif promised that Pakistan will evaluate the case and brief Afghanistan on undertaken measures,” an official statement released by the president’s office on 25 August said.

The government statement appears to point a finger at the Pakistani Taliban, which has carried out several major attacks on education facilities within Pakistan, though no particular group has so far claimed responsibility for the American University of Afghanistan attack.

Students who had been inside the building during the siege have said the militants themselves spoke Pashto, one of the two main languages of Afghanistan.

Targeting universities

A Taliban-linked group kidnapped some 35 professors and around a dozen students from Kandahar University in 2014, when their bus was attacked in Ghazni province, 150 kilometres from Kabul.

And a major attack in January on Bacha Khan University in Pakistan that killed 21 and left 30 injured was said to have been directed from Afghanistan, according to the Pakistani Army – an allegation that the Afghan government denied at the time.

Within Afghanistan, Taliban militants have targeted young women, mainly in rural provinces, to deter them from studying.

The private non-profit American University of Afghanistan is co-educational. The university teaches in English though its 1,151 degree-level students are Afghan. Although the fees are high by Afghan standards, the university boasts that some 84% receive financial assistance and scholarships.

According to statistics released last year, some 32% of enrolments in its degree programmes are females – considerably higher than the national average of around 20% female higher education students – and the university has been building a dormitory to house some 200 women students due to be completed in 2017.

With substantial aid provided by the US aid agency USAID, the university wants to attract women students from outside Kabul.

The university also has regional branches in Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat and Qandahar, which the university has said will operate normally, even while the Kabul campus is closed.


Like many institutions in Afghanistan, the university campus is guarded and surrounded by high walls. Security was stepped up after the abductions on 7 August of two of its foreign professors – an American and an Australian – from their car at gunpoint by unidentified gunmen as they were returning home from the university. Their whereabouts are still unknown.

This incident led to the closure of the university for three days until 10 August while security was being reviewed, the university said in a statement at the time, adding it had set up a crisis group “to assist in managing the situation”.

Friday’s university statement issued in the wake of the 24 August attack said “security has always been of the utmost importance to the university and we will be working with the Afghan government and others to improve security”.

Some surviving students and their families said they planned to continue their education despite the threats.

"This was a cowardly assault on talented and motivated scholars – students and faculty alike – dedicated to a better and more prosperous future for Afghanistan," US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.