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Attack On Kabul University Leaves At Least 19 Dead

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Gunmen stormed the campus of Kabul University in the Afghan capital today. At least 19 people are dead; another 22 are injured. NPR's Diaa Hadid is on the line. She covers Afghanistan from her base in Islamabad.

Diaa, thanks for being here. Just explain what we know to have transpired.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Right. So what appears to be is that this was a complex attack, and it lasted throughout the day. We managed to catch one eyewitness. She's a law faculty student. And she says she heard an enormous blast, and then gunmen rushed onto the campus wearing police uniforms. Her name is Nilofar Farahmand (ph), and she says they were told to flee.

NILOFAR FARAHMAND: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: She says actually they got word on a WhatsApp group that gunmen were holding two classes hostage and that they'd opened fire on some of the students, killing and wounding some of them. She says two teachers she knows are wounded and that some students actually jumped out of second-floor windows to flee the gunmen. And you know, we got a sense of the carnage from images that were shared among Afghan reporters that showed young men and a young woman shot dead in classrooms. It was pretty horrific.

MARTIN: I mean, it's so awful. Education and especially opening up to women, it has been such an achievement for Afghanistan, you know, over the last 18, 19 years. And this is the second time - right? - that an educational institution has been attacked in the last 10 days.

HADID: In - yeah, in the last 10 days. So - about - in fact, nine days ago, ISIS claimed responsibility for attack on an education center in Kabul where young men and women were preparing for university exams. But we don't know still who's behind this attack. The Taliban insists that they're not behind it. But for many Afghans, they say, well, you've been doubling down on attacks across the country, and you're tying up security forces so they can't deal with these attacks right now.

And you see, the anger is particularly bitter right now because the Taliban and the Afghan government are meant to be in peace talks.

MARTIN: Right.

HADID: And so - yes. So I was speaking to Fawzia Koofi, and she's one of the few women who negotiate for the Afghan government. And she says these attacks are causing plenty of concern, not least because it means that even if they make peace with the Taliban, this bloodshed won't end.

FAWZIA KOOFI: The growing concern's that if (inaudible) is what going to look like after the peace with Taliban, then - then we will not basically achieve peace. So there is a lot of disappointments and frustrations around the situation, to be honest.

MARTIN: I mean, can you just clarify, Diaa? Are the talks even still happening because - with all this violence going down?

HADID: In fact, they are. And they're happening with, I guess - from what I get from Afghans - is a lot of disappointment because there was so much expectation that these peace talks would herald at least a reduction in violence. But the opposite has happened. There's been a surge in bloodshed and carnage across the country.

And you see, there's even more anxiety because there's this parallel deal that's going on right now between the United States and the Taliban, and that calls for most foreign forces to withdraw by April. And so the big concern now for many Afghans is that as American and NATO forces withdraw, Washington might lose an interest in Afghans and leave them really to the mercy of this violence.

MARTIN: So, I mean, what happens at this point? What happens now when it comes to the talks?

HADID: Well, the withdrawal is still going ahead regardless, as far as we can tell. And basically, everyone is stuck in the talks because nobody wants to be seen as the spoiler, the people who upturned this one promise of peace for Afghanistan.

MARTIN: NPR's Diaa Hadid reporting on Afghanistan from Islamabad.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.