KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan declared a national day of mourning Tuesday to honor the 22 people killed in a horrific attack a day earlier on Kabul University, which was claimed by the Islamic State group. Most of those killed were students and another 27 people were injured, some of them critically.
Monday’s brutal, hours-long assault was the second attack on an educational institution in the Afghan capital in as many weeks amid a soaring rise in violence and chaos across Afghanistan, even as Taliban insurgents and government negotiators hold peace talks in the Gulf state of Qatar.
The Islamic State affiliate also claimed the earlier attack on Oct. 24 that killed 24 students at a tutoring center. The attack occurred in the mostly Shiite neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi.
The IS affiliate has declared war on the country’s minority Shiites and has claimed a number of vicious attacks since emerging in eastern Afghanistan in 2014.
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Outside Kabul University Tuesday a small group of demonstrators gathered demanding a cease-fire and urging the government to withdraw from the peace talks until a permanent end to hostilities is declared. Some held signs reading “why are you killing us?”
Mohammad Rahed, a policy and public administration student killed in the attack, posted a video to social media just days before the assault, where he urged people to live each moment and to “live with a smile.” The video was widely shared after the attack.
His father told local media his son wanted to be president of Afghanistan and “honestly serve my people.”
Meanwhile, President Ashraf Ghani warned that the perpetrators would be pursued.
“We will not remain silent. We will take the revenge,” he said in a video message Tuesday. “Our brave forces are after you everywhere and they will eliminate you.”
The brutal assault on the university was condemned by the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Human rights groups have expressed their outrage and Torek Farhadi, a political commentator in Kabul and former government advisor called for a “transparent investigation” into security in the Afghan capital to determine how heavily armed gunmen gained access to the country’s largest educational institution.
The Islamic State is not part of peace talks and despite their claims of responsibility, the government has blamed Taliban for the attacks. Taliban, like the Afghan security forces, are fighting the Islamic State and under an agreement signed with the U.S., the Taliban have committed to fighting militancy, specifically the Islamic State.
The government’s lead negotiator in peace talks, Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, called for an immediate cease-fire announcement from the Taliban.
“If Taliban is committed to end brutal killing of people then should accept ceasefire,” Stanekzai tweeted Tuesday.
The Taliban, which condemned the attack on the university and denied involvement within hours of its start, have refused to declare a cease-fire saying it would be part of the negotiations.
But if not a cease-fire, then a significant reduction in violence has taken on increasing importance as Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on Monday made a surprise visit to Pakistan urging Islamabad to urge the insurgent movement to reduce violence.
Pakistan has been critical in pushing Taliban into talks. Even as the Islamic insurgent group ousted by the U.S.-led coalition in 2001 maintains its political office in Doha, where talks are being held, its leadership councils are located in Pakistan.
Khalilzad brokered a peace pact with the Taliban that was signed in February and seen at the time as the country’s best chance at peace in more than 40 years of war. The peace agreement which is to allow U.S. and NATO troops withdraw from Afghanistan after 19 years, it also paved the way for the peace talks currently underway.
In a series of tweets Tuesday Khalilzad condemned the attack but also warned “this barbaric attack is NOT an opportunity for the government and the Taliban to score points against each other. There is a common enemy here.”
Family members of the victims mourned their loved ones on local TV and called for the government to investigate security lapses.
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Gannon reported from Islamabad.
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