Newspaper article International New York Times

Fatal Attack on University in Kabul Shatters an Oasis

Newspaper article International New York Times

Fatal Attack on University in Kabul Shatters an Oasis

Article excerpt

Men with rifles and grenades put the American University of Afghanistan, an oasis from violence, through a deadly ordeal that lasted nearly 10 hours.

As cafes, restaurants and performance centers in Kabul came under attack one after another in recent years, the campus of the American University of Afghanistan remained a rare oasis for some of the country's brightest young men and women.

Beyond providing a quality education, the school offered a glimpse of a carefree life away from the unpredictable violence that afflicted the rest of the capital. Behind layers of security, students could play basketball at the gym, compete in debate tournaments or just have an uninterrupted conversation over coffee.

That sense of freedom, too, was violated Wednesday night.

Men with Kalashnikov rifles and grenades first gunned down a guard at the adjoining school for the blind. One drove a car packed with explosives into the American University's wall, blowing a gap through it. Two more militants dashed onto campus, where hundreds of students were taking evening classes. The attackers methodically stalked the men and women trapped inside, fighting off the Afghan security forces for nearly 10 hours in a terrifying overnight siege.

On Thursday morning, at least 13 lay dead: seven students, three police officers, two university guards and the night guard at the neighboring school for the blind. Abdul Baseer Mujahid, a spokesman for the Kabul police, said that more than 30 others were hurt in the attack; another estimate, from the Health Ministry, said that 16 had been killed and 53 wounded.

The attack was unmistakably a blow to young Afghans who had chosen to defy the migrant exodus away from the country's war and instead pursue their dreams in the difficult circumstances at home.

Among the dead was Sami Sarwari, who had been a student of the successful Afghan National Institute of Music, where his skills with the dilruba, a folk instrument, had made him part of an orchestra that traveled to the United States and performed at the Kennedy Center.

After a 2014 attack at a performance center in Kabul where they were giving a concert, he quit music, according to his friend Shabeer Kabuli. This fall, Mr. Sarwari won a scholarship to the American University.

He was killed on his second day of classes. His last Facebook post, on Tuesday, had the American University tagged as its location. "I'm in," he wrote. "Looking forward to a beautiful and bright future."

"He had wished to support his family and be with them like a mountain," said Ahmad Sarmast, the founder and director of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, who taught Mr. Sarwari for six years and was among the wounded in the 2014 concert attack. "His family is so poor, and his mother tried to support her children to achieve their goals. …

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