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An Afghan flag flies at half-staff over Kabul on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, as the country mourned 22 people, most of them students, who were killed when Islamic State gunmen stormed Kabul University a day earlier.
An Afghan flag flies at half-staff over Kabul on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, as the country mourned 22 people, most of them students, who were killed when Islamic State gunmen stormed Kabul University a day earlier. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)
An Afghan flag flies at half-staff over Kabul on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, as the country mourned 22 people, most of them students, who were killed when Islamic State gunmen stormed Kabul University a day earlier.
An Afghan flag flies at half-staff over Kabul on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, as the country mourned 22 people, most of them students, who were killed when Islamic State gunmen stormed Kabul University a day earlier. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)
An Afghan flag flies at half-staff on Wazir Akbar Khan hill overlooking central Kabul on Nov. 3, 2020, as the country mourned 22 people, most of them students, who were killed when Islamic State gunmen stormed Kabul University a day earlier.
An Afghan flag flies at half-staff on Wazir Akbar Khan hill overlooking central Kabul on Nov. 3, 2020, as the country mourned 22 people, most of them students, who were killed when Islamic State gunmen stormed Kabul University a day earlier. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

KABUL, Afghanistan — On a landmark hill overlooking the Afghan capital, a national flag fluttered at half-staff in the breeze, one of many around Kabul that had been lowered Tuesday to mourn 22 people who were killed in an attack by Islamic State militants on Kabul University.

The city felt as if it was carrying a heavy burden of sadness and hopelessness after Monday’s attack, said Fahim Amini, who was eating lunch nearby.

“Everyone is thinking about their future and what might happen to us if things don’t change,” he said.

Outside the U.S. Embassy, the American flag also had been lowered in homage to the victims, most of whom were students. More than two dozen people were wounded, some seriously, when militants stormed the university at around 11 a.m. Monday, detonating explosive devices and opening fire as students and staff ran for cover and cowered in classrooms.

All three gunmen were killed at the end of the six-hour siege, officials said.

“Today, the United States mourns Afghanistan’s civilian victims, especially those at Kabul University, with our Afghan partners and friends,” the embassy said on Twitter.

The Islamic State group has said it carried out the attack, which was the second on an educational institution in Kabul in less than two weeks. Islamic State-Khorasan Province, the branch of the group active in Afghanistan, also claimed responsibility for that attack 10 days ago, in which 24 students died.

Violence in Afghanistan has been unrelenting this year despite the U.S. and Taliban signing a deal in February, aimed at paving the way for peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, as well as the withdrawal of international troops before next summer — if the Taliban hold up their end of the agreement with the Americans.

One of the conditions they agreed to was to sever ties with al-Qaida. U.N. officials said last week that has not happened.

Attacks by the Taliban have continued even after the insurgent group and government began peace talks in September in Qatar. Outside the university Tuesday, demonstrators called for those talks to be suspended until the Taliban agree to a cease-fire. But the insurgent group has said it will only declare a cease-fire once the talks with the government have concluded.

Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Pakistani Taliban in 2012 because she advocated for the right of girls to be educated, offered prayers to the families of the students who lost their lives.

“The brutal attack on university students in Kabul, Afghanistan is heartbreaking — I’m calling on leaders to take action to protect students,” she said on Twitter.

U.S. Charge d’Affaires Ross Wilson, the highest-ranking American diplomat in Kabul, also offered condolences.

“Teaching and learning preserve this country’s gains to build a better future,” he tweeted. “What Kabul needs, what the country needs, is #PeaceForAfghanistan.”

But taxi driver Adeel, who was injured in the attack at the university, said he held out little hope for peace and security in Afghanistan.

“We can’t count on the government to protect us; they can’t handle the current situation even if they want to,” said Adeel, who like many Afghans goes by one name.

“ISIS doesn’t care about the lives of civilians,” he said. “No place is safe now.”

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

wellman.phillip@stripes.com Twitter: @pwwellman

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