Photo attributed to the attack on American University of Afghanistan in Kabul pic.twitter.com/EVunzOpyd3
— KAZEMI, Mustafa (@CombatJourno) August 24, 2016
At least one person died and 25 others were hurt Wednesday after militants attacked the American University of Afghanistan in western Kabul, an Afghan official said.
Hedayatullah Stanikzai, an official with the Ministry of Public Health, said a guard employed by the university had been killed and that the wounded included a foreign teacher.
University authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.
Reuters reported that dozens of students and foreign staffers were trapped inside classrooms and safe rooms hours after the assault began Wednesday evening, local time.
Police spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said security forces were conducting operations to track down the “terrorists”.
Witnesses and a U.S.-based school administrator told Fox News the gunfire had stopped but security teams were still sweeping the area.
Ambulances raced victims to a nearby hospital. Local media reported fires continued to burn on campus.
Sediqqi said it was not clear if there were one or two attackers.
Associated Press photographer Massoud Hossaini was in a classroom with 15 students when he heard an explosion on the southern flank of the campus.
“I went to the window to see what was going on, and I saw a person in normal clothes outside. He shot at me and shattered the glass,” Hossaini said, adding that he fell on the glass and cut his hands.
The students then barricaded themselves inside the classroom, pushing chairs and desks against the door, and staying on the floor. Hossaini said at least two grenades were thrown into the classroom, wounding several of his classmates.
Hossaini and about nine students later managed to escape from the campus through an emergency gate.
“As we were running I saw someone lying on the ground face down, they looked like they had been shot in the back,” he said.
Hossaini and the other students took refuge in a residential house near the campus, and were later safely evacuated by Afghan security forces.
Another student described jumping out of second-floor windows in an attempt to escape the attack.
“Many students jumped from the second floor, some broke their legs and some hurt their head trying to escape,” said Abdullah Fahimi, a student who injured his ankle making the leap.
Dejan Panic, the program director at Kabul’s Emergency Hospital, said 18 people wounded in the attack, including five women, had been admitted. He said three were “seriously” wounded, probably from automatic gunfire.
A car bomb had exploded outside a school for the blind next door before at least one attacker fired at the university campus from that school building, a police officer at the scene told The New York Times.
The U.S. Embassy was working to account for all of its personnel, State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters. She said the State Department condemned the attack.
The U.S. military was assisting Afghan forces who responded to the attack, U.S. Army Colonel Michael T. Lawhorn told Fox News. “These advisors are not taking a combat role, but advising their Afghan counterparts.”
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. The Taliban have been fighting to overthrow the Kabul government for 15 years, and regard foreign civilians as legitimate targets.
The university was established in 2006 to offer liberal arts courses modeled on the U.S. system. It claims as many as 1,700 students are enrolled there, 40 percent of whom are women.
Two of its professors were kidnapped at gunpoint in Kabul on August 7. The professors were identified as Kevin King, an American, and Timothy Weeks from Australia. Men in military uniforms reportedly abducted them as they traveled between the campus and their home in Kabul. The professors’ whereabouts are unclear.
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