On Wednesday, August 24th, attackers launched a deadly assault on the campus of the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF).
As the story unfolded, Afghan journalists worked to piece everything together, and some used Twitter to disseminate information.
— أبو أسامة (@khorasanee1) August 24, 2016
Journalists weren’t the only ones wielding the power of social media that day. Some people who had friends and relatives trapped on the AUAF campus also used it to try to make contact with them, and pass along any updates they might have received.
Razia Danesh was on Twitter, waiting to receive word about her sister, Maryam.
For God sake stop calling us you are making us crazy. We are worried enough
— دشمن فرضی (@DoshmaneFarzi) August 24, 2016
Speaking with Queens Free Press via Twitter direct message, Danesh says she was shocked when she found out that Maryam was among those who were trapped on the campus when the attack started.
“I didn’t want to think about any bad thing,” she says, “But I was thinking about [her] being injured, being killed, or any other bad things.”
In the midst of it all, Maryam did find an opportunity to send a brief text.
“I am fine,” read the text message.
Danesh says she tried calling her sister after that, but she didn’t pick up the phone. She then turned to Twitter, in search of any updates.
“I read some tweets that said they [the attackers] came into uni,” Danesh says, “I was shocked because I didn’t know where is my sis (sic).”
Ten minutes later, Maryam finally picked up the phone. She told Danesh that she had managed to escape to the university dormitory with several of the other girls. Several university security guards had managed to bring the girls to a safe room there. When they decided that it was finally safe for them to leave, Danesh says her sister accompanied one of the other girls, who was wounded, to the hospital. “We picked her [up] at hospital,” says Danesh.
Once they were reunited, Maryam recounted some of what took place in the safe room. Though the girls had been in hiding, they could still hear the sounds of gunfire. Danesh says she listened as her sister described how the girls who were in hiding had considered finding and carrying knives to defend themselves, just in case anything else were to happen. The guards in the safe room instructed the girls to be quiet, so as not to get the attention of the attackers. That instruction made phone contact very difficult, but that did not stop Maryam from sending updates via text messages.
Danesh says she was busy too. “I was reading the updates,” she says, “and texting her that the police was there, do not worry, to comfort her (sic).”
But Maryam was worried. “She was saying that we are afraid, and the girls are crying. We need water,” Danesh recalls. During their text message exchange, Maryam also mentioned that the girls could still hear gunfire outside, and that they were beginning to doubt the integrity of the safe room.
All the while, Danesh had a hard time reconciling what her sister was saying with the updates she was reading on social media. “Then gradually, I read some tweets [that] said that [it] is over,” she says, “I told her, but the guards was not sure about the security outside so they didn’t let any girl to go outside (sic).” As it turned out, the fighting had ended outside, but was continuing inside campus buildings.
After escaping the campus, and accompanying the injured girl to the hospital, Maryam finally made it home at around 11:00 pm.
“I just hug her, crying (sic),” says Danesh, “We didn’t say anything.”
Danesh believes that this is more than just an attack on students, and more than just an attack on a university. For her, this was an attack on the future of Afghanistan.
This suicide bombing is not an attack on American University of Afghanistan #AUAF , it is an attack on hopes for the future of this country.
— دشمن فرضی (@DoshmaneFarzi) August 24, 2016
“This was an attack on a uni. The education is the future of [our] country,” she explains, “Now the universities are under attack. We are not sure of the security of universities, schools. Maybe they [will] close AUAF. Then what will happen to my sis—about her education, about her future?”
As it stands right now though, the American University of Afghanistan does plan to re-open.
— Friends of AUAF (@FriendsofAUAF) August 25, 2016
Editor's Note: Tomorrow we will have the story of Abdullah Mohammadi, a student who was on campus at the time of the attack.