Afghan security forces stand guard after an attack on the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. The attack has ended, a senior police officer said Thursday, after several people were killed. Kabul police Chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi said the dead included one guard, and that about 700 students had been rescued. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
© AP

An overnight attack on Afghanistan’s top university has left 14 people — including seven students — dead and 30 injured, highlighting the worsening security challenges confronting the beleaguered Afghan government even in its highly-guarded capital city of Kabul.

Authorities said the heavily-armed attackers stormed the 10-year-old American University of Afghanistan — the country’s most prestigious institution of higher education — on Wednesday night, when at least 150 students were inside. 

Students said the attack began with explosions and automatic gunfire, triggering panic among those inside. Some students barricaded themselves in their classrooms or leapt out of windows to escape, while others ran in a panic through darkened hallways.

The siege on the campus ended nearly nine hours later, when Afghan security forces killed two assailants. Officials said that three Afghan policemen and two security guards were also killed. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the assault.

The American University of Afghanistan is the country’s only private, non-profit coeducational university, and it has about 1,700 students attending either full- or part-time.

Despite its name, few of the university’s students are foreigners, but the campus does have international professors, including westerners. It is considered the most modern institution in the country, and provides education for a new generation of Afghan leaders, many of whom attend evening classes after work. 

The overnight attack on the campus comes three weeks after the university suspended operations when five men wearing Afghan military uniforms abducted two of its teachers — an American and Australian — at gunpoint while they were driving in an SUV near the campus. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

The attacks on the campus, which has long been considered a symbol of hope for Afghanistan’s future, come as Taliban militants appear to have gained ground on the battlefield across the country over the past few months.

Additional reporting by Farhan Bokhari

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