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American University of Afghanistan Reopens After Deadly Attack

Afghan security personnel walk near the site of an attack by militants that targeted the elite American University of Afghanistan, in Kabul, on August 25, 2016.
Afghan security personnel walk near the site of an attack by militants that targeted the elite American University of Afghanistan, in Kabul, on August 25, 2016.

The American University of Afghanistan, a prestigious institution of higher education in the country, has reopened seven months after a deadly terrorist attack that killed 13 people and injured more than 35 others.

Among those killed last August were seven students, one professor, three police officers, and two security guards, according to the country’s Interior Affairs Ministry.

The school -- whose faculty consists of Afghans and foreign nationals, including Americans -- officially reopened on Saturday, but classes are scheduled to start March 28.

“We continued our commitment to the future of Afghanistan,” said David Sedney, acting president of the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF).

Sedney added that the university campus is now safer than before because of new security measures taken in the wake of last year’s attack.

The university seemed to have been a target of militants for a while. Prior to the attack but during the same month, an American and an Australian professor were kidnapped at gunpoint while on their way to the campus.

Both professors appeared in a video in January asking the U.S. government to negotiate and secure their release, but they have yet to be freed.

‘Campus is safe’

“While the American University of Afghanistan’s doors remained closed for students after the August 2016 attack, we reviewed our security system to make it stronger so that our students return to a safer environment,” said Zubaida Akbar, director of communications at the university.

Established in 2006 with the help of Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, the university offers graduate and undergraduate programs based on the American system.

“Today is a good day for the world. I am delighted that AUAF has reopened. I know that the university community has been eagerly waiting for this day,” said Khalilzad, who is also a member of the AUAF Board of Trustees.

“The Afghan people and the Afghan leadership rallied in support of the University,” he added.

The university has about 1,700 students and is viewed as one of the country’s finest institutions of higher education. Some of its graduates are working in senior positions within the Afghan government.

“Our goal is to help provide a modern and prosperous future to Afghanistan, and we want to help educate the future leaders of Afghanistan,” Akbar said.

Attack not deterring students

The terrorist attack has not deterred Afghans from seeking education at AUAF.

“We have 80 new students this semester, the highest enrollment rate in a single year,” Akbar said.

Militants have increasingly targeted educational institutions, young professionals, and educated members of Afghan society. Experts say militants purposely target these institutions to deprive the younger generation of education and disconnect them from the rest of the world.

“The attackers wanted to permanently close this excellent center of learning. They failed,” Khalilzad said. “I wish the AUAF success in delivering on its mission: to educate its students and provide them with 21st-century skills, who can lead successful lives and, in turn, can help Afghanistan succeed.”

For many, the attack on the school initially seemed to have been the beginning of the end for the university. But the institution’s administrators said many of the university’s foreign faculty have returned.

Some parents remain concerned for their children's safety, fearing another attack by the militants.

But the university says parents are welcome to visit the campus to examine the new security measures put in place by the administration.

To students like Faryal Yaqubi, however, the American University of Afghanistan presents an opportunity and hope of a better tomorrow.

“My parents and I want to complete my studies at this university because it is one of the best universities in the country,” Yaqubi said. “Now, we do not have any [security] issues. The university is fully functional.”

Business administration student Kabir Ali, a freshman, said he was anxious to return to the classroom.

“I have been impatiently waiting for the reopening of the university. Now I feel safer and more optimistic about my higher education at AUAF,” Ali said.

-- Written by Noor Zahid for Voice Of America