Introducing Survival Stories

In this series you will meet women from Afghanistan who all share one thing in common, something that will bind them forever. It is the survival from a terrorist attack on them while they were in their university studying. Each story you will see in this section is different, it is the story of one brave woman. But each is the same. Each is a shared personal experience, that creates an everlasting bond amongst them. We will share the women’s stories in the days to come. But to give you the context, we will start here with some background. Chadari Founder, Sveto Muhammad Ishoq, was one of the survivors of this attack and below is a short introduction which will be followed by her personal story in the next section.

24 August 2016, a date that is associated with darkness for me. I call it the darkest night of my life, the darkest night of all the students, the darkest night of all the professors and everyone who were present that day in my university. 24 August 2016 is the date when there was a terrorist attack on my university that killed 13 people including the faculty, students and staff, and physically injured at least 53 of us, and many more suffered psychological injuries.

The university’s security was tight at American University of Afghanistan (“AUAF”) and we would go through the security check and every time we had to enter campus as if we are going through the security checkpoint at the airport. The university was surrounded by a fortified wall. From day one when I entered the university, I used to hear people saying about the security threats and about being careful that our university will get attacked by the insurgents. Nobody ever took this seriously,  so nobody would ever think that it would actually happen.

It was the first week of the 2016 fall semester and, for some – students and lecturers – the first week of their academic career. Around 700 people were at the university that day. Who would think that in the very first week they had to face the insurgents?

The attack began at 19:03pm during evening classes. Since the security was tight in the front and there were security guards with guns and security measures, the attack was from the other side of the campus, from the back. First, the attack was through a car bomb. The car was filled with explosives which was blown up which left a large hole in the wall of the campus. Shortly after the explosion, the electricity supply to the campus was cut off, some emergency lights were on only. This also turned off all the surveillance cameras, as well as the Internet connection.

When students started panicking and tried to escape, two attackers entered the campus and were there till 4am in the morning (they were there for nearly 11 hours). Some students managed to escape, but most of the students were still trapped on the campus. Insurgents were throwing grenades, firing guns, going to each classroom in every building trying to kill the students. Students used different techniques to protect themselves, like some sending messages on Twitter, some using furniture in the classroom to barricade doors, some making a decision to escape through the windows,  basically by throwing themselves out of window using the curtains of the classrooms and making a rope out of those curtains.

The attackers entered a building called Bayad Building. Naqib Ahmad Khpulwak, a law professor was killed. The attackers moved from room to room and floor-to-floor, many did not want to risk escaping and hid themselves in different classrooms on the second and third floors of the Bayat building. One attacker appears to have moved relatively quickly to the smaller Azizi building, a one-story structure used both for classes and for the administrative staff of the Professional Development Institution (PDI), an AUAF branch that offers English language and other professional courses. One of this building’s two gates was blocked and when a group of at least three students and a guard attempted to head towards the second gate, they ran into the attacker, who opened fire on them. At least one student in the group died, while another, got severely injured, but managed to escape.

Students who were in C-building or the library escaped through emergency gates which lead to a UN compound. Students who were in C building and Azizi Building managed to escape, but because the terrorists were inside the Bayat building, students who were in that building heard grenade explosions and gunfire during the ten hours it took the various security forces – including the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF) guarding the university, an armed security team hired by the AUAF and the Ministry of Interior’s Crisis Response Unit (also known as 222s) supported by the Norwegian and US special forces – to search the campus and to find and kill the attackers.

At various points during the night, fighting stopped as injured security forces were evacuated. Remaining staff and students were only evacuated from the Bayat Building in the early hours of 25 August. Then the search mission began for the injured who were unable to get themselves out, and for the dead. At around 8 am, the bodies of many of those who had been killed were found.

During the chaos, 13 people died: six male and two female students, two professors, two university security guards and one from the Noor School for the Blind. Most people were killed from bullets that travelled through windows.

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