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Survivors Of Attack At American University Of Afghanistan Recall Terror

  • Golnaz Esfandiari

Female Afghan students who were trapped inside during the attack are escorted by Afghan police at the end of the nearly 10-hour raid at the American University in Kabul.

Female Afghan students who were trapped inside during the attack are escorted by Afghan police at the end of the nearly 10-hour raid at the American University in Kabul.

At least seven students, one teacher, and five others were killed in a terror attack on the American University of Afghanistan outside Kabul on August 24.

The rampage began when a car bomb detonated at a fortified gate to the campus around twilight, sending hundreds of students fleeing in terror. Elite Afghan security forces scrambled to pin down and eventually kill the two gunmen believed responsible, finally giving the all-clear signal in the early hours of August 25. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which also injured dozens of students.

READ: At Least 13 Killed In Attack On American University In Kabul

Here are the accounts of four survivors, who describe students and faculty barricading themselves behind classroom doors, clinging to the floor as shots rang out just meters away, and suffering injuries as they and others scrambled to reach safety outside the walls of the besieged university.

An Afghan man injured in the attack receives treatment in an ambulance.

An Afghan man injured in the attack receives treatment in an ambulance.

I Thought, 'This Is The End'

Nineteen-year-old Roman Dehsabzi was inside a second-floor classroom when the 10-hour assault began. He recalled to RFE/RL hearing a loud explosion that shattered windows. Gunfire followed.

Dehsabzi and about 25 other students barricaded themselves in their classroom, wedging chairs against the door in an effort to prevent any gunmen from entering.

"One of them hit the door really hard, but he didn't manage to open it," Dehsabzi recalled. "After that [attempt], they exploded a grenade outside the door to enter [the classroom]. They blew up the door and we were forced to jump from the second floor to escape."

He said he saw some of his friends injure themselves while clambering to escape.

All the while, he said, the gunmen kept firing at them.

Dehsabzwal said he thought he was going to die.

"I thought, 'This is the end.' I didn't think I would leave the university alive and unharmed. But I managed to escape."

"While jumping, I remember seeing a friend next to me. Later, I noticed blood on the back of my T-shirt. I'm not sure whether he was injured or what happened to him."

Another friend was among those killed.

"One of my close friends, who was with me in the classroom, was unfortunately martyred (killed)" in the attack, he said.

He last saw the friend when they jumped from the second floor. Then chaos followed and students dispersed. "I didn't know which way he went," he said.

Despite the horror, Dehsabzi said he is determined to stay at the school.

"The American University of Afghanistan is one of the country's best universities. That's why the enemies of Afghanistan want to destroy it. But we won't give up our studies, even if there's another attack. We will continue our studies," he told RFE/RL. "I'm not afraid."

A wounded Afghan man receives treatment at the Emergency Hospital in Kabul.

A wounded Afghan man receives treatment at the Emergency Hospital in Kabul.

'He Started Shooting'

Other survivors had their own accounts of the horrific incident but of similar determination to continue their studies.

One of them is Mohammad Daud, who was in a classroom on the third floor of the university when the militants struck.

He heard an explosion and then gunfire, which he said he could hear getting closer.

"Finally, [the gunmen] approached our classroom," he said. "First, an attacker entered my classroom. There were a lot of students in the classroom. I saw the attacker. I lowered myself to the ground. He started shooting."

After a few minutes, he said, he thought the worst was over.

But a classmate indicated to him that the gunmen were simply firing at students on the other side of the classroom.

"At this point, I thought if he turns toward us, he will kill us, too, Daud told RFE/RL. "The only way [to survive] was to escape. I jumped from the third floor of the building and broke my arm."

He said security guards helped him climb the perimeter wall of the campus and escape.

A wounded man is helped by a medic inside an ambulance following the attack.

A wounded man is helped by a medic inside an ambulance following the attack.

'There Was A Huge Explosion'

Twenty-three-year-old Hoda, a student of business administration, was relaxing on campus when she heard a blast.

"There was a huge explosion, then the gunfire started. They were trying to get in and were firing [their weapons] to all sides," she said.

She said students started running, trying to dodge the bullets as they did.

Hoda managed to get off the university compound within a few minutes and credits the school for having given safety instructions to students.

"The university had previously given us security training. They've taught us which way to take in case of attack or any problems," she said.

"I followed the procedure from the training and managed to escape and leave the university. Some were still stuck inside."

Hoda said she was shocked and terrified by the attack.

"It was a very bad feeling. A university is a place for learning. No one expects such [an attack] to take place."

"It was so sudden that I don't even know how I managed to stand up and escape. I still don't know how I managed to do it, " Hoda told RFE/RL.

Wounded Afghan students from the American University receive treatment in the female ward at the Italian aid organization hospital in Kabul.

Wounded Afghan students from the American University receive treatment in the female ward at the Italian aid organization hospital in Kabul.

'We Saw A Huge Fire'

Fahim Ahmad was at a lecture on international relations when a huge explosion shattered the glass in his classroom.

"Students who were sitting next to the windows were injured. We saw a huge fire," he said.

After the initial shock, the students quickly realized that the university had come under attack. Some panicked, while others started running toward the corridor.

He said he could hear some students crying and shouting for help.

"I and others tried to help those who were injured, and we started running toward the emergency gates," he said.

He remembered hearing gunshots while trying to escape to safety.

"Some [people] fell on the ground. Others helped them stand up and run," he said.

Ahmad managed to leave the university unharmed.

"It was terrifying," he recalled, adding that seeing the courage of others helped him get over his fear.

"Those who commit these attacks are against education and progress. They killed students who were after a better future and willing to serve their country," he said.

Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Malali Bashir contributed to this report
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