As It Happens·Q&A

Students killed at Kabul University were Afghanistan's 'hopes and beacons,' says prof

The students killed in an attack on Kabul University were "beautiful souls" with bright futures, says one of their professors. 

'Afghanistan has lost some of its best children it has ever produced,' says Sami Mahdi

Afghan security forces at the University of Kabul after gunmen stormed the campus and killed at least two dozen people. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

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The students killed in an attack on Kabul University were "beautiful souls" with bright futures, says a professor. 

At least 22 people, most of them students, were killed on Monday when gunmen stormed the Afghanistan campus. The attack took place on the university's eastern side, which houses its law and journalism faculties.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was targeting newly graduated "judges and investigators belonging to the apostate Afghan government."

The university was also hosting a book fair that day with Iranian dignitaries, including the Iranian ambassador to Afghanistan, but it's unclear whether that event was targeted. 

Sami Mahdi teaches journalism at the school. He rushed to the hospital to find his students in the aftermath of the shooting. Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off. 

Sami, first of all, I'm sorry for your loss and for all that you're going through today.

Thank you so much. It has been a very bad day for the entire nation.

How difficult is it for you to see the images, see what happened at your university, [to your] students, your friends, colleagues, as they tried to escape these gunmen today?

When you have so much fond memories of close friends, students who have become your friends, and then you see their faces in blood, it's very difficult to comprehend what has been going on. And it is one of the worst experiences I have ever had in my life.

A doctor looks at an X-ray of a man being treated at a hospital after a deadly attack at Kabul University. (Rahmat Gul/The Associated Press)

I know you went to the hospital to see what you could do, who you could help. What did you see there?

I saw at least 10 to 13 students [from] my classes in very critical condition in the hospital. Also one of my colleagues ... a very young, talented professor who has got recently his master's degree in public administration from Turkey, who has returned to the country just a few months ago. And I saw also friends and family members of these students who were there to ask about the health situation of their loved ones.

And I also saw those family members who were looking for their loved ones, but their loved ones were not among the injuries. They were already lost.

Do you know if they have accounted for everyone at this point?

When I went to the hospital, I was informed that some of my students were still inside the university and they were hiding in some place and some of them were injured and bleeding. I talked to them a number of times [on the phone] ... and I was trying to console them, and told them that everything will be OK and everything will end safely.

When the area was cleared and they were saved, I saw some people were seeking for their loved ones, and their loved ones were not among these students who were hiding.

The ones you spoke with who were inside, did they all get out safely?

All of them got out safely. Unfortunately, two of them were injured. 

How dangerous is it now to be attending university?

It has become a trend that the education centres are under attack. So nowhere is safe. Professors, as well as the students, do not feel safe anywhere now, unfortunately. It's like the young generation of Afghanistan and the future of Afghanistan has been under attack [from] terror groups.

As you know ... these students are among the best and the brightest. They are the future of Afghanistan, really, aren't they? And so what's been lost today with the deaths of so many of your young people in the university?

Sons and daughters are lost. Brothers and sisters are lost. Loved ones are lost. Beautiful souls are lost.

At the same time, Afghanistan has lost some of its best children it has ever produced. I knew these kids personally. And they were really, really among the best of this generation. They were, I could say, the hopes and beacons of our future. But unfortunately, we have lost them. And we have collectively failed to protect some of our best.

How difficult is it going to be for you to return to university?

I've been thinking about it since the moment I heard that my students are under attack. I've been just thinking it takes so much bravery to go back to the school and look in the eyes of my students who were injured and those who were lucky enough to escape this tragedy.

So it's mentally so ... difficult for me to go back. But I think we have no other choice. We have to work for the future of this country. And we have to remain resilient and strong and positive enough to be able to see a brighter future and an end for this tragedy.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview produced by Kate Swoger. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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