At least 22 dead as gunmen target students at Afghanistan's Kabul University
Policemen stand guard at an entrance gate of Kabul University on November 2, 2020. © AFP

At least 22 people were killed when attackers stormed one of Afghanistan's main universities on Monday, detonating a suicide bomb and spraying classrooms with bullets in a brazen hours-long assault claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.

The attack on Kabul University, which came as violence surges across Afghanistan, marked the second time in less than two weeks that an educational institution was targeted in the capital by IS group extremists.

Survivors described horrific scenes following the incident that unfolded around 11am local time when a suicide bomber blew himself up inside the campus.

Two gunmen then started shooting, officials said, sending hundreds of students fleeing and scrambling over perimeter walls.

Fraidoon Ahmadi, a 23-year-old student, told AFP he was in class when gunfire broke out at the university.

"We were very scared and we thought it could be the last day of our lives... boys and girls were shouting, praying and crying for help," Ahmadi said.

He said he and other students were besieged for more than two hours before being rescued.

Distressing images posted online showed what appeared to be the bodies of slain students lying by desks and chairs.

The IS group said two of its fighters carried out the attack.

The Ministry of Public Health said at least 22 people were killed and 22 more wounded. Officials said most of the casualties were students.

Ghani vows revenge

It was not immediately clear how the attackers got their weapons into the university, which has security checks. Officials said an investigation was under way.

It took Afghan security forces, supported by US troops, several hours to clear the campus and declare the attack over.

The Taliban said they were not involved, but Vice President Amrullah Saleh blamed the insurgent group and their supporters in Pakistan, even as he acknowledged an intelligence failure.

We "will correct our intelligence failures. But the Talibs, their like minded satanic allies in the next door won't be ever able to wash their Conscience of this stinking & non justifiable attack on Kbul uni", Saleh wrote on Twitter.

Afghan authorities routinely accuse Islamabad of backing the Taliban, charges Pakistan denies.

Pakistan's foreign ministry condemned Monday's attack, which it said was a "despicable" assault on a seat of learning.

President Ashraf Ghani vowed to take revenge.

"We will take revenge for this senseless attack and for any drop of innocent students' blood spilled today," Ghani said in a message released by the presidential palace.

Surging violence

Several education centers have been attacked over the years by extremist groups such as the IS group.

Last week at least 24 people, mostly students, were killed in a suicide attack on an educational centre in western Kabul that was claimed by the terrorist outfit.

In 2018, a suicide bomber killed dozens of people, many of them teenagers, in front of Kabul University in an attack also claimed by the IS group.

NATO in Afghanistan condemned the latest carnage.

"Afghan children & youth need to feel safe going to school. #NATO stands firmly behind all efforts to stop violence," NATO envoy Stefano Pontecorvo said on Twitter.

Violence has surged in recent weeks despite ongoing peace talks between the Taliban and the government that started in Qatar in September.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy who negotiated a separate deal with the Taliban in February, visited Islamabad on Monday where he met with the head of the Pakistan military to discuss a "way forward for lasting peace in Afghanistan", officials said.

Talks have so far made little tangible progress.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)