The attack that tested war-weary youth

At least 13 people were killed at American University of Afghanistan in Kabul on August 23 in a gun, bomb attack. Student Edris Lutfi was on campus at the time of the attack and shares his experience of the horrors of the night.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Students walk toward a police vehicle after they were rescued from the site of an attack at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, Afghanistan August 25, 2016.

Updated Sep 12, 2016

A gun, bomb attack on American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) in Kabul on Wednesday night resulted in the death of 13 people, including students and one professor. Edris Lutfi, a media and communications adviser at the Office of the Chief Executive, is a student at the AUAF and was on campus at the time of the attack. Lutfi shares his experience with TRT World.

It was part of our routine, my friends would step outside after evening lectures for a smoke and we would all hang around campus untill 8pm. It was around 7pm on Wednesday when we heard the gunfire.

Growing up in Kabul during the years of the civil war and then the Afghan Taliban rule, the rapid rounds —  ra-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta —  are always familiar. We instinctively looked up - not worried enough to panic but curious. That’s when we all felt it. Boom - the sound that knocked us off our feet.

Not knowing what was going on, I got up and immediately ran.

At that point I didn’t know what I was running towards but I ran. As fast and as far as I could from the direction of the blast.

The point of entry for the attackers from Noor Eye Hospital into American University of Afghanistan, Kabul on August 24, 2016.

The blast was followed by more gunfire. I could hear the screams of students. Then I saw it was Bayat Building, just 30 metres from where my friends and I were standing after class. As much as I could see through the panicked crowds, smoke had engulfed the southeast side of the campus

Stunned, somehow I recalled the emergency drill we went through years ago. Somehow I knew I should head to the emergency exist at the west side of the campus, far from where I had taken cover.

I quickly made my way, as dozens of students were trying to flee. Students and faculty members could be heard screaming, yelling instructions to head in different directions.

I looked to my right and saw my friend Shah - we had just been talking about his graduation. Shah wanted to start his own travel agency with deals reintroducing Afghanistan in a positive light.

He was bleeding from his neck and shoulder. We ran to the lush green grounds of the UN compound to the west of the campus. I took another look at him just as he slowed down and collapsed.

Students sitting area in Bayat Building, American University of Afghanistan in Kabul the morning after the attack on August 24, 2016.

From the UN compound, students dispersed into different alleys and directions. Some took shelter in the houses nearby.

I knew the safest place would be my house so I ran towards the main street; somewhere along the way I had lost my left shoe. The gunfire continued as I ran; I ran until I could no longer breathe.

I saw a yellow cab and threw myself in it. My physical responses slowed as my body felt the car under me speed, the adrenaline wore out and I realised what happened.

The American University of Afghanistan was under attack.

I fumbled through my phone to check social media and saw friends posting horrific details of what just happened.

“Where should I take you?” the driver asked. “Home,” I replied. The only place I could feel safe.

On the way, I must have recited as many of verses of the Quran as I could, some not even correctly. I prayed and prayed for the safety of those left behind. I knew there were casualties; the blast had felt like a lightning bolt landed next to my feet.

I updated my Facebook to let everyone know that I am fine. “Survived another bombing” I wrote; “another” because I had been lucky enough to escape other attacks by minutes.

I kept refreshing my social media feed to get updates. By now, the injured had been transferred to Emergency and Isteqlal hospitals. My mother insisted I stay home but I wanted to donate blood. I left around 11pm.

The scene at the front of the Emergency Hospital shattered my heart into a million pieces.

Family members, friends of the victims were crying. I couldn’t stop my own tears, the thought of the people left inside Bayat Building squeezed the very air out of my lungs.

I had to go and see the site of the attack myself. We drove to the university and saw armoured vehicles had lined the streets I escaped from.

We were not allowed to go inside until early Thursday morning when one by one, the injured were carried out in ambulances. Some of the victims told tales of horror as the gunmen stormed the building, shot at anyone, anything that moved and lobbed hand grenades inside classrooms where only a day ago we sat through lectures.

By sunrise, the police told us the attackers had been killed and the crisis response unit had rescued hundreds of students and university staff.

But there were still people missing: my friends Mujtaba Akseer, Jamshid Zafar and Professor Naqib Khpelwak whose law classes I had planned to take later. I learned Khpelwak had been killed.

The last lecture given by law professor Akram Khpelwak where he and his student Jamshid Zafar were both killed on August 24, 2016 in a gun and bomb attack on American University of Afghanistan in Kabul. 

I called Edris Waizi, a mutual friend of Jamshid and I. What Waizi told me was devastating; Jamshid had been martyred.

I quickly rushed to his apartment. I saw Waizi waving from a distance as my heart filled with sorrow. How could this happen to one of our own? Jamshid never wronged anyone. He was respectful, honest and extremely smart.

A future lawyer who had every potential to be a successful leader had he lived.

I held Waizi and tried to hold back my tears but I couldn't. The sounds of mourners crying, even screaming, from Jamshid's condo could weaken the strongest heart. 

We went to see his body at the military hospital. The room was ice cold, covered in white tiles.

There he was. His coffin was labelled as “Shaheed Jamshid”. I just could not fathom - Jamshid was just there with four other coffins covered with Afghanistan’s flag.

The four of us who visited the hospital wept without any control, like babies. Four strong, young men all of whom have seen decades of war. But seeing Jamshid with his eyes closed shattered our war-hardened souls.

It was 11am Thursday morning when we exited the hospital. We barely spoke a word until I said, “Even now, don’t you think he was smiling at us?” to which Waizi replied, “It was more of a smirk, more like; I am gone but you guys are f***ed.”

Author: Edris Lutfi