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Attack on Afghan university leaves 19 dead, 22 wounded

Afghan police arrive at the site of an attack at Kabul University in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Afghan police arrive at the site of an attack at Kabul University in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Monday.
(Rahmat Gul / Associated Press)

Gunmen stormed Kabul University in Afghanistan on Monday as the campus hosted a book fair attended by the Iranian ambassador, sparking an hours-long gun battle that left at least 19 people dead and 22 wounded. Most of the casualties were students.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack at Afghanistan’s largest school, but the Taliban issued a statement denying participation in the assault, which came as the insurgents continue peace talks with representatives of Kabul’s U.S.-backed government.

As the attack unfolded, students and teachers were seen fleeing the campus while hand grenades exploded and automatic rifle fire sounded. Scores of Afghan special forces surrounded the campus, shepherding teachers and students to safety.

Hours later, the chaos subsided as the sun set over the Afghan capital. The Interior Ministry’s spokesman, Tariq Arian, said three attackers were involved in the assault, all of whom were killed in the ensuing gun battle.

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It was the second attack on an educational institution in Kabul in two weeks. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a brutal assault on a tutoring center in the city’s mostly Shiite Muslim neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi, which killed at least 24 students and wounded more than 100 others Oct. 24.

The peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Kabul government, known as intra-Afghan talks, were part of a deal Washington signed with the insurgents in February. The talks are taking place in Qatar and are seen as Afghanistan’s best chance at peace. But daily bloodshed has continued.

Afghanistan is claiming it has killed a top Al Qaeda propagandist on an FBI most-wanted list during an operation in the country’s east.

Five hours into the fighting Monday, sporadic grenade explosions and automatic-weapons fire still echoed down the empty streets surrounding the university’s fenced compound. Afghan troops stood guard.

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Ahmad Samim, a university student, told journalists that he saw militants 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 on the university’s eastern side, where its law and journalism faculty teach.

Afghan media reported that a book exhibition was being held at the university and attended by a number of dignitaries at the time of the shooting. None of the dignitaries was reported hurt.

While Afghan officials declined to discuss the book fair, Iran’s semiofficial ISNA news agency reported Sunday that Iranian Ambassador Bahador Aminian and cultural attache Mojtaba Noroozi were to inaugurate the fair, which was hosting about 40 Iranian publishers.

Moscow and Washington are intertwined in a complex and bloody history in Afghanistan, with both suffering thousands of dead and wounded in conflicts lasting for years.

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Iranian diplomats have been targeted previously in Afghanistan, incidents that dangerously escalated tensions between the two countries. In 1998, Iran held the Taliban responsible for the deaths of nine Iranian diplomats working in its consulate in northern Afghanistan, and sent reinforcements to its 580-mile-long border with Afghanistan.

With no claim of responsibility for Monday’s attack, suspicion immediately fell on Islamic State, which has declared war on Afghanistan’s minority Shiites and staged dozens of attacks since emerging in the region in 2014. A horrific attack earlier this year on a Kabul maternity hospital — also in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood — was blamed on the group. In that attack, militants killed 25 people, many of them newborn babies and mothers.

Schools have also been targeted in past attacks. Last year, a bomb outside of Kabul University’s gates killed eight people. In 2016, gunmen attacked the American University in Kabul, killing 13.


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