At least 12 people have been killed and 44 wounded after militants attacked the American University of in Kabul, trapping students and foreign staff members in their classrooms amid explosions and automatic gunfire.
Witnesses said the attackers blew up an outer wall before bursting into the university compound around 7pm on Wednesday.
Seven students, three police and two security guards were killed, police said, while dozens of people were wounded by bullets or shrapnel or injured themselves while jumping from second-storey windows.
About 700 students were rescued in the attack in which two suspected militants were killed by security forces.
One student, Mohammed Khalid Feroz, said he was playing basketball at the university gym when he heard the first explosion and rushed to escape with other students. He returned to look for his friends only to find a professor bleeding profusely from his throat.
“He was badly injured. I took him to a dorm,” said Feroz, who attempted to provide first aid.
Ten minutes after the attack began, dozens of officers from the Afghan special police force (CRU) cordoned off the scene. The ministry of interior affairs spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said they were heading inside to look for the “terrorists”.
Foreign troops were also involved in the operation to secure the university. A spokesman for the international forces in Kabul said the number of foreign troops was “small”. The troops were “not directly involved or in a combat role, but advising their Afghan counterparts”, Brig Gen Charles Cleveland said.
Outside the university, a crying man, who declined to give his name, said his brother had called him from inside the university after suffering three gunshot wounds. “I don’t know where [in the university] he is,” the man said.
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No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes just weeks after two university professors – an American and an Australian – were kidnapped at gunpoint nearby. Their whereabouts remain unknown.
Many students were trapped inside the university during the attack, and tweeted or texted desperate calls for help.
Massoud Hossaini, a photographer for the Associated Press, was in class when the attack began and tweeted: “Help we are stuck inside AUAF and shooting flollowed [sic] by Explo this maybe my last tweets.”
Hossaini and other students barricaded themselves in their classroom, but at least two grenades were thrown inside, wounding several classmates.
Hossaini and nine others later managed to escape through the northern emergency gate.
Describing the attack to the AP, he said: “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.”
The students then barricaded themselves in the classroom before escaping through the emergency exit.
“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.