University survivors recall night of horror in Kabul

Students vow to remain resilient following the attack on American University of Afghanistan which left at least 12 dead.

The night before the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul came under attack, Abdullah Latifi, an undergraduate student of business administration, had a sudden urge to skip his chemistry class and stay at home, with his family.

But attending the class was important, so he shrugged off the feeling and left to go to school.

Soon after, however, his fears turned into reality when armed gunmen attacked the elite university packed with students and professors.

“When fighters entered the university building, I decided to jump off the window in panic, but when I looked out of the window, it was too high,” Latifi said, his voice shaking as he recalled Wednesday night’s events.

“So I lied down on the floor, playing dead. I could feel shattered glasses piercing into my back and I was bleeding. After 10 hours of battle between the fighters and the armed forces, I came out alive as one of the last survivors of the attack,” he told Al Jazeera.

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Latifi recalls an armed gunman speaking over the phone, reporting to someone on the other side saying, “we have killed hundreds of people here”, in Pashto, one of the two main languages of Afghanistan.

“They shot one of my friends in the head, who was lying right beside me, playing dead,” the 24-year-old said, breaking in tears. 

“The sound of that bullet pierced my heart.”

At least 12 people were killed in the university attack late on Wednesday. The assault ended in the early hours of Thursday when two gunmen were shot dead by the security forces and that is when Latifi was rescued.

The attack began with a large explosion that officials said was a car bomb followed by gunfire. Fighters battled into the complex where many of the students attend part-time classes.

Another student, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera that the attackers were “Afghan Taliban”, claiming that he had heard them speaking in Kandahari Pashto.

[Al Jazeera English]
[Al Jazeera English]

No group, however, has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

Kabul police chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi told Al Jazeera that seven students, three policemen and two security guards were killed in the assault.

“We have blocked the area off to investigate the brutal attack on students and professors,” Rahimi said. 

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“We cannot give any information at the moment until our investigation is completed.”

Local police, however, said that NATO military advisers were helping Afghan forces in their operation to end the siege.

Most of the 40 people wounded were in a critical condition, hospital sources told Al Jazeera.

‘Unlucky nation’

Naqib Ahmad Khpulwak, an assistant professor of law at the university, who had studied at the Stanford Law School and the Old Dominion University in the United States, was one of those killed.

“My brother was highly educated and always wanted to educate the people of his country. He returned back to Afghanistan for this purpose,” Naqib’s brother, Masoud Ahmad, told Al Jazeera.

“Losing people like Naqib is a big loss to this country, to us. We are the most unlucky nation alive,” Masoud said on route to his hometown of Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan, where he was taking his brother’s body for the funeral.

Among the victims was also the Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, Massoud Hossaini, who was said to be wounded and managed to escape with some students.

Civilians under threat

Civilians are constantly being targeted in Afghanistan’s ongoing battles as the Taliban seek to gain territory. 

Despite air support from US and Afghan warplanes, government troops are struggling against the Taliban, with senior government officials saying the fighters are becoming better trained and better equipped.

Civilian casualties hit a record high in the first half of 2016, according to the UN, with a particular surge in the number of children killed or wounded. 

The security problems facing Afghanistan are also being compounded by a growing political crisis within the Kabul government. Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s chief executive, recently criticised President Ashraf Ghani for failing to work collaboratively, saying he was undeserving to serve the government.

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Wednesday’s attack on the university came after two of its professors – an American and Australian – were kidnapped in Kabul earlier this month.

Despite his ordeal, Latifi remained defiant, saying the attack had made him even more determined to continue his studies.

“When I returned home with my clothes stained in blood, my mother and father started crying and kissing me saying they thought I was dead,” he said. 

“Being the last survivor has made me strong, there is hope indeed,” Latifi added. 

“I will continue my education for this country.” 

Shereena Qazi is on Twitter, Follow her on @shereenaqazi

Source: Al Jazeera