Daesh terrorists stormed Kabul University on Monday as it hosted a book fair attended by the Iranian ambassador to Afghanistan, sparking an hourslong gunbattle and leaving at least 35 dead and 50 wounded at the war-torn country's largest school.
Most of the casualties were students and there were fears the death toll could climb further with some of the wounded said to be in critical condition.
It was the second attack on an educational institution in Kabul in as many weeks.
The ministry's spokesperson, Tariq Arian, said there were three attackers involved in the storming of the campus, all of whom were killed in the ensuing firefight.
Five hours into the fighting, sporadic grenade explosions and automatic weapons fire echoed down the empty streets surrounding the university's fenced compound.
University professor Zabiullah Haidari told the local TV station, Ariana, that classes were underway when the shooting began. University officials and security personnel escorted students off campus, he said.
According to The Associated Press (AP), security forces blocked off roads leading to the campus as frantic families tried to reach their children at the university.
Ahmad Samim, a university student said he saw militants armed with pistols and Kalashnikov assault rifles firing at the school, the country's oldest with some 17,000 students. He claimed that the attack happened at the university's eastern side where its law and journalism faculties teach.
Afghan media reported the book exhibition was being held at the university and attended by a number of dignitaries at the time of the shooting. While Afghan officials declined to discuss the bookfair, Iran's semiofficial ISNA news agency reported Sunday that Iranian Ambassador Bahador Aminian and cultural attache Mojtaba Noroozi were scheduled to inaugurate the fair, which would host some 40 Iranian publishers.
Iranian state television reported the attack occurred, but did not offer information on its officials. Iranian diplomats have been targeted previously by attacks in the country and nearly sparked a war between the two countries.
Daesh terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack via its Amaq News Agency.
In a message posted on Telegram, the group claimed to have "killed and injured 80 Afghan judges, investigators and security personnel" who gathered on completion of a training program, a much higher death toll than the one released by Afghan officials.
The Taliban issued a statement denying it took part in the assault as it continues peace talks with the U.S.-backed government. Those negotiations aim to help the U.S. finally withdraw from America's longest war.
In 1998, Iran held the Taliban responsible for the deaths of nine of its diplomats who were working in its consulate in northern Afghanistan and sent reinforcements to the 950-kilometer (580-mile) -long border that Iran and Afghanistan share.
Violence has been relentless in Afghanistan even as the Taliban and a government-appointed negotiation team discuss a peace agreement to end more than four decades of war in the country. The talks in Qatar have been painfully slow and despite repeated demands for a reduction in violence, the chaos has continued unabated. A U.S. deal with the Taliban in February set the stage for peace talks currently underway in Doha. The deal also allows for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan.
Meanwhile Monday, a vehicle hit a roadside mine in the country's southern Helmand province, killing at least seven civilians, most of them women and children, provincial governor spokesperson Omer Zwak said.
Last year, a bomb outside of the campus' gates killed eight people. In 2016, gunmen attacked the American University in Kabul, killing 13. Last month, Daesh sent a suicide bomber into an education center in the capital's Shiite dominated neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi, killing 24 students and injuring more than 100.
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