Gunmen have stormed a university campus book fair, shooting at least 19 dead and injuring more than 20 people.
The hours-long siege at Kabul University came as the Iranian ambassador to Afghanistan and cultural attaché, Mojtaba Noroozi were scheduled to inaugurate the event on campus.
“The attack is over, but sadly 19 people have been killed and 22 more wounded,” interior spokesman Tariq Arian tweeted.
Witnesses said the attack followed an explosion in the area. Students spoke of chaos and confusion.
Security forces eventually shot dead all three gunmen.
Grenades and automatic weapons could be heard across the city during the attack and witnesses claimed the attackers were deliberately targeting students.
One of the students, Fathullah Moradi, who escaped through the university’s gates with a group of friends, said, “We were studying inside our classrooms when suddenly we heard a burst of gunfire inside the university.
“They were shooting at every student they saw.”
Another, Ahmad Samim, said he saw militants armed with pistols and Kalashnikov assault rifles firing at the law and journalism wing of the school, which is the country’s oldest and has around 17,000 students.
Hamid Obaidi, a spokesman for the ministry of higher education, told reporters the attack started when government officials were arriving for the opening of an Iranian book fair organised at the campus.
The Taliban said their fighters were not involved in the assault and no other group has claimed involvement.
The attack also came as insurgents continued peace talks with the US-backed government. The negotiations, taking place in Qatar, aims to help the US finally withdraw from its longest war.
Mushtaq Rahim, a conflict, peace and security specialist who works for the Afghan Affairs Unit has said the incident is likely have a negative impact on the peace process which is already facing challenges.
“This new wave of terror, especially today’s attack, is going to have a negative impact on the peace process.
“People start questioning the whole process even at a time when they [negotiators] are closing in on a potential peace deal.
“Seeing these heinous attacks on civilians and civilian installations creates a negative mood among the public and the government will also have taken on a harsh approach to manage people’s expectations.”
At least 24 people including teenage students were killed in a suicide bombing at an education centre in a Shia dominated neighbourhood of western Kabul on 25 October.
Iranian diplomats have been targeted previously by attacks in the country.
While Afghan officials declined to discuss the book fair, Iran’s ISNA news agency reported on 1st November that Iranian Ambassador, Bahador Aminian and cultural attaché, Mojtaba Noroozi were scheduled to inaugurate the fair, which would host some 40 Iranian publishers.
In 1998, Iran held the Taliban responsible for the deaths of nine of its diplomats who were working in its consulate in northern Afghanistan.
The Taliban has been waging a deadly armed rebellion since it was removed from power in 2001 in a US-led invasion.