KABUL —An hours-long siege on Kabul University claimed by the Islamic State left at least 22 dead and 22 wounded Monday after two gunmen stormed the campus, took several students hostage and battled security forces for hours before the scene was cleared and all hostages were freed.
The attack in Afghanistan’s capital began with an explosion at the gates of the university just before 11 a.m. Monday. Thousands of students fled, but a number trapped inside began posting to social media describing seeing classmates gunned down.
“God give patience, my classmates martyred and wounded in front of my eyes, and I am taken hostage,” Qaseem Kohestani, a fourth-year student at the university’s public policy school, posted to Facebook.
A law student told The Washington Post that dozens of students and some professors were taken hostage in the attack. The student spoke on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns.
[Taliban shows it can launch attacks anywhere across Afghanistan, even as peace talks continue]
Afghan police special forces were dispatched to the scene. Coalition forces from the U.S.-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan “provided support” to Afghan security forces during the operation, according to a military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in line with Pentagon regulations.
After an assault that lasted over five hours, the Interior Ministry declared the campus secured. The ministry said hundreds of students were rescued by Afghan security forces.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office condemned the attack and declared a national day of mourning Tuesday.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement released by the group’s media arm Monday night. The Taliban denied involvement in a statement released shortly after the attack began.
Monday’s siege bore hallmarks of past attacks on similar targets. In 2018, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack on a shrine near Kabul University where Afghanistan’s Shiite ethnic Hazara community had gathered to mark the Persian new year. And in 2016, the Taliban attacked the American University in Kabul, killing 11 and wounding 30 in an assault that trapped some students all night as a gun battle raged for nine hours.
This is the second significant attack targeting civilians in Kabul in recent weeks. Last month, a suicide attack on an education center in west Kabul killed 24 people, mostly students, and wounded 70 others. The Islamic State also claimed responsibility for that attack.
Overall, large-scale attacks in the Afghan capital have dropped in recent months. The Islamic State group was weakened by Afghan military operations last year supported by U.S. air power that pushed it from strongholds in the country’s east. And large Taliban attacks in urban areas decreased significantly after the United States and the Taliban signed a deal in February on the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
But a handful of Islamic State-claimed attacks