Kabul University reopens after carnage from IS attack

With beefed up campus security, students at Afghanistan’s Kabul University (KU) in the country’s capital have resumed classes after a major terrorist attack on 2 November that killed at least 22 – most of them students – and injured dozens more, according to official figures.

Unofficial government sources have put the death toll at 35, Reuters news agency has reported.

With lower than average attendance this week, the otherwise lively campus saw grim-faced students walk briskly to classes, crossing the additional security check posts erected after the attack.

According to a notification by the KU administration, the decision to reopen the campus just two days after the attack was made in a top-level meeting under the leadership of Afghanistan’s President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani. Student dormitories have been reopened and the students asked to return.

Explaining the new security strategy for the university, Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian told University World News that the government had strengthened its operations and surveillance and would not allow academic institutions to be harmed in the raging war in the country.

“A major part of it is to deal with the propaganda war by the Taliban, but we will address potential loopholes in security without turning academic institutions into military positions,” he said.

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.

Journalism student Mareena Ahmed said on returning to campus: “There are additional check points, security guards and more vigilant checking. But this cannot bring back the precious lives we have lost to the terrorist attack.”

With some marks of the brazen attack now washed away and the shattered university building which had been damaged by grenades cleared for resumption of classes, students and teachers laid floral wreaths at the site to pay homage to the victims.

Many stay away

But others stayed away. Dodging bullets and narrowly escaping death on 2 November, Zainab Ahmadi (21) of the school of policy and public administration, where most of the slain students were in classes, said she is still in shock, too fearful to return to the campus.

“I cannot bear the sight of empty chairs where my friendly classmates would sit,” she told University World News. “I feel terrified even at the sight of the military uniforms and weapons, and fear a repeat of the tragedy.”

Sami Mahdi, a broadcaster and lecturer at KU, said via Twitter that the school of policy and public administration where he teaches lost 16 students aged between 20 and 24 and paid tribute to them. “They will be remembered forever,” he said.

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 told University World News.

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.

Just a week before the KU attack, at least 24 teenage students were killed 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.

The KU students have been pushing authorities for a detailed probe into the KU attack. On Tuesday, a number of students and civil activists condemned the attack and staged a protest in front of the university, demanding a thorough investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators. First Vice-President Amrullah Saleh has said an investigation is under way.

Some 13 police officers and officials responsible for university security were arrested and charged with “negligence”, Kabul police spokesman Ferdaws Faramarz said. They were later released.

In August 2016 a deadly 10-hour assault on the premier private sector American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) in Kabul left at least 13 people dead, including seven students. A group of Taliban militants had stormed the AUAF campus located on a busy street in the western part of the Afghan capital. AUAF was reopened in March 2017 for students, seven months after the attack, with tight security measures including higher perimeter walls.

The country’s Higher Education Ministry has declared 2 November, the day terrorists attacked KU, as ‘Dark Day’. It has also decided to erect a monument at the university in the memory of those killed in the attack.