KABUL: Disguised as Afghan security forces, several gunmen stormed Kabul University's campus in the capital on Monday, killing 22 and leaving many injured, officials said, describing it as the latest in a series of strikes aimed at non-military targets in the country.
“The attack of savage terrorists on Kabul University with the killing of three terrorists ended. With regret, 22 people were killed and 22 wounded,” Tariq Aryan, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said in a statement.
The attack triggered hours of gun battle between the assailants and Afghan forces backed by U.S. troops.
Despite the Taliban's denial and condemnation of the incident, Afghan leaders, including President Ashraf Ghani, blamed the militant group for the attack.
However, the Daesh claimed responsibility in a statement later in the day.
The attack comes less than two weeks after Daesh said they were behind an attack on an educational center in a Shia dominated part of Kabul. Nearly 30 students lost their lives in that attack.
A lecturer of the Kabul University, the most prestigious one in Afghanistan, told Arab News by phone that the assailants had occupied the Faculty of Law and taken some students and teachers hostage during Monday's attack.
“I was told that they also opened fire indiscriminately inside some of the rooms that they stormed,” he said, pleading to remain anonymous.
Images circulating on local media showed young students, including several girls, lying on the floor of a class. Families and next of kin of those stuck inside were anxiously waiting to hear about the fate of their dear ones.
Nearly 8,000 students routinely study in the campus. Hundreds of students and employees of the university were seen fleeing through one of the entrances. Some jumped from walls, while several escaped from windows, breaking or fracturing their legs and feet, witnesses said.
Officials could not point at the reason, or target of the attack which happened as a joint Afghan and Iranian book exhibition was underway in a different part of the university. Iran’s ambassador to Kabul was also present when the attack began, but he escaped unhurt, two security sources told Arab News.
In recent years, non-military sites such as educational centers, funeral processions, mosques, sports clubs and even hospitals have been targeted by militants either loyal to the Taliban or Daesh in Afghanistan.
Abdul Sattar Saadat, a former adviser for President Ashraf Ghani, said such attacks were a cause for serious concern for the public and showed a new pattern in the country’s bloody conflict.
“It looks that we are witnessing a new phase in the war here through such attacks,” he told Arab News.
The attack is part of a surge of violence and comes as Afghan government-appointed delegates and Taliban negotiators have been meeting as part of U.S. sponsored push since 12th of Sept. in Doha.
Both Taliban and Kabul blame each other for the increase of attacks in which hundreds of civilians, government troops and Taliban have died only in recent weeks.
The Taliban have gained ground in several regions of Afghanistan as well, since signing an accord with Washington in late February.
The Qatar talks were a key part of the U.S. and Taliban deal.
A former deputy defense minister, Tamim Asey, in an article published on a local daily said: “the current security and military team” of the government were “rotten” and Taliban’s advances and attacks in the past few months showed that they have failed despite giving sacrifices in the battlefield.
“We need a new energy, thought and team. Otherwise we should wait for the fall (of government)”.