Three ISIS gunmen today stormed Kabul University as it hosted a book fair attended by the Iranian ambassador, sparking an hours-long gun battle which left at least 19 people dead and 22 wounded.
The attackers were killed by Afghan security forces in the ensuing gun battle, according to the Interior Ministry's spokesman Tariq Arian. Most of the casualties were students.
As the attack unfolded, students and teachers were seen fleeing the university campus while hand grenades exploded and automatic rifle fire could be heard.
Scores of Afghan special forces surrounded the campus, shepherding teachers and students to safety.
ISIS today claimed responsibility for the deadly attack.
A man, wounded after ISIS gunmen stormed Kabul University today, arrives at Isteqlal Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan in an ambulance
A wounded man receives treatment at a hospital in Kabul following the ISIS attack on Monday
A doctor looks at an X-ray of a man who was left hospitalised after being wounded in the deadly attack on Monday at Kabul University
Five hours into the fighting today, sporadic grenade explosions and automatic weapons fire still echoed down the empty streets surrounding the university’s fenced compound. Afghan troops stood guard.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the Taliban issued a statement denying they took part in the assault. It comes as the insurgents continue peace talks with representatives of Kabul's Washington-backed government, with the aim to help the US finally withdraw from Afghanistan.
Ahmad Samim, a university student, told journalists 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 at the university’s eastern side where its law and journalism faculty teach.
Afghan security troops surrounded the campus and stood guard during the attack on Monday
The Afghan security personnel stood guard outside the Kabul University and helped dozens of students and lecturers flee the ISIS attack
Afghan police work at the site of the Kabul University attack on Monday night
Sami Mahdi, a lecturer at Kabul University said in a tweet: 'I am devastated. I am destroyed. Visited Ali Abad Hospital. Some of our best students are gone forever. Some others including one of our professors are in critical condition. Such beautiful souls. We have always failed to protect our best ones.'
He added: 'I remember everyone's face and have fond memories of them. Nothing could be worse than seeing their faces in blood.'
Shabnam Salehi, another lecturer at the university, condemned the attacks.
She tweeted: 'Terrorists, with extreme brutality, killed and injured dozens of my students at Kabul University. They had ambitions and hope for the future.
'It is how terrorists are the base of our chronic disaster in Afghanistan. A crime against humanity!'
Lecturers who teach at Kabul University condemned the attack on Twitter
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 were reported hurt.
While Afghan officials declined to discuss the bookfair, Iran’s semiofficial ISNA news agency reported Sunday that Iranian Ambassador Bahador Aminian and cultural attaché Mojtaba Noroozi were to inaugurate the fair, which was hosting some 40 Iranian publishers.
Iranian state television reported the attack occurred, but did not offer information on its officials.
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 the Iran-Afghan border.
It was the second attack on an educational institution in Kabul in as many weeks. With no claim of responsibility for Monday’s attack, suspicion immediately fell on the Islamic State group.
Last month, the Islamic State group sent a suicide bomber into a tutoring center in the capital’s mostly Shiite neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi that killed at least 24 students and wounded more than 100 others.
The IS affiliate has declared war on Afghanistan’s minority Shiite Muslims 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 Islamic State 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 the Kabul University’s gates killed eight people. In 2016, gunmen attacked the American University in Kabul, killing 13.