SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: November 02, 2020

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):Kabul University

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Afghanistan

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On November 2, 2020, at least three gunmen carried out a violent attack on Kabul University, leaving at least 19 dead and 22 wounded.

After storming the campus just before 11:00 AM, the gunmen detonated explosive devices (reports suggest they threw grenades) and began opening fire. Given the recent lifting of coronavirus restrictions, sources indicated that thousands of students would have been on campus. A book fair was reportedly being hosted at the university, with Afghan officials and Iranian diplomats expected to be in attendance.

Gunmen took at least twenty students and professors hostage during the attack, holding them in classrooms while Afghan security forces and American troops arrived on the scene and engaged in a gunfight. Video of the attack shows students attempting to escape by scaling the exterior walls of the campus. After more than hours into the attack, security forces had killed the gunmen and secured the campus.

Violent incidents have increased in recent months despite ongoing efforts to secure a peace agreement between the Taliban and Afghan government. The Taliban has publicly denied responsibility for the attack.

The attack occurred within ten days of another violent attack on an educational institution in Kabul. On October 24, a suicide bomber attacked the Kawsar-e Danish Educational Center in Kabul, leaving at 24 dead and 57 injured, many of them students (see report). The Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) claimed responsibility for that attack.

Scholars at Risk is gravely concerned about a targeted, violent, extremist attack on a higher education institution and sends condolences to the victims’ families and to the Kabul University community. In addition to the terrible loss of life and injuries, such attacks target the core values of higher education, including academic freedom, the free exchange of ideas, institutional autonomy, and social responsibility. State authorities have a responsibility to safeguard these values by taking all reasonable steps to ensure the security of higher education communities and their members, including a responsibility to deter future attacks by investigating incidents and making every effort to hold perpetrators accountable, consistent with internationally recognized standards. Members of society similarly have a responsibility to help safeguard the higher education space, especially following incidents of such gross violence, by pressing demands to state authorities for greater protection and accountability, and by contributing to efforts to understand and reinforce principles of autonomy and academic freedom.