Country mourns victims of Kabul University carnage

Afghanistan’s President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has ordered the national flag at public offices all over the country and diplomatic missions abroad to be hoisted at half-mast as the country mourns the victims of a brazen attack on Kabul University on Monday 2 November, leaving 19 students and teachers dead and over 22 others wounded.

Hundreds of Kabul residents gathered in front of the university on Tuesday 3 November to denounce the attack on the historic academic institution in the war-ravaged country and to express solidarity with the victims.

“The Republic [Islamic Republic of Afghanistan] will prevail [against extremism], we will all return to classes,” said banners at the rally as grim-faced participants marched through the quiet street in front of the devastated university on a chill autumn morning.

The attack began in the morning of 2 November local time when at least three attackers equipped with assault rifles and hand grenades stormed the northern entrance of the country’s leading university, spraying bullets at everyone in sight, shocked officials and students said.

Responsibility has been claimed by Daesh or Islamic State (IS), with the attackers identified by the IS propaganda website Amaq as Amas Panshiri and Tariq Khorasani.

Images from the site of the attack circulating on social media showed students’ bodies lying in blood-spattered classrooms.

Established in the 1930s, Kabul University, with over 20,000 registered students, is the country’s biggest state-run academic institution, located in the heart of country’s capital. The attack took place as a book exhibition by Afghan and Iranian publishers was underway at the university.

“I was attending a lecture in the journalism faculty when we heard sporadic blasts followed by gunshots in the nearby law faculty,” eye-witness Romaan Kareemy, a student, told University World News.

“Our teacher immediately called off the class and asked us to leave for safety. It was only then we realised the magnitude of the tragedy, when we saw almost the entire university anxiously fleeing towards the exit, and blasts and gunfire coming out of the law faculty getting louder.”

After six hours of engagement with the terrorists, the police’s rapid response unit declared the complex operation to clear the campus over. Interior ministry spokesperson Tariq Arian said in a statement: “The vicious terrorist attack on Kabul University ended with all three terrorists killed. In this incident, unfortunately, 19 people were martyred and 22 others injured.”

The country’s health ministry said most of the injured, many in a critical state, were rushed to the nearby Ali Abad public hospital.

‘Who would feel safe’?

The incident has exacerbated the deep-rooted fears of residents of the war-ravaged Afghan capital.

Just a week earlier, at least 24 teenage students were killed in in a suicide attack on an academic institute in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood of Kabul, an area largely inhabited by the Shia Hazara minority. Daesh or the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.

“Where and who would feel safe here [in Afghanistan]? Our mosques, markets, playgrounds and streets were not safe, and now innocent people are getting killed in academic institutions. The time might come when we might no longer be safe inside our homes,” student Fareed Mangal said as he waited outside the Isteqlal Hospital to inquire about the condition of his injured fellow students.

There has been no immediate claim of responsibility by Taliban insurgents who issued a statement denying their involvement. However, Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh blamed Taliban insurgents and “likeminded” people for the bloodshed, calling the attack an “intelligence failure”.

Condemnation pours in

President Ashraf Ghani issued a directive for the national flag at public offices all over Afghanistan and at diplomatic missions abroad to be hoisted at half-mast.

“We convey a clear message to all terrorist groups, including Taliban, that such acts of terror and atrocity can never deter the resolve of steel of the great Afghan nation for a peaceful, stable and thriving Afghanistan ... I enunciate to the brutal enemies of Afghanistan that this attack will not remain without response; we will retaliate,” Ghani said in a televised speech late on Monday.

The attack has been widely condemned by the Afghan government, its international partners and rights groups. Spokesperson for President Ashraf Ghani said the “enemy” (the Taliban) carried out this attack after facing defeat in Helmand province. “The enemy is showing instability by attacking such an academic place.”

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) joined others in condemning the attack on an entirely civilian entity. “There can be no justification to unleash such terrible violence at a school or college. Our heartfelt sympathies are with the victims’ families and friends. #Afghanistan,” UNAMA tweeted.