ISIS forcing universities to close in eastern Afghanistan

The closures come amid reports of imminent offensive by Taliban fighters against ISIS

epa06930516 Afghan security officials secure a checkpoint in Bahsood district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, 06 August 2018. Security in various districts of Nangarhar has been intensified after a recent wave of bomb blasts in different parts of the country.  EPA/GHULAMULLAH HABIBI
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Several higher education institutes in Afghanistan's eastern province of Nangarhar, including its main university, have had to shut down following threats issued by ISIS insurgents.

The closures come amid a deteriorating security situation in Nangarhar, with more than 300 deaths and above 600 injuries in the last six months.

Given those attacks, officials say they have been left with no option but to take specific threats against schools and universities seriously.

"A threat was issued nearly two weeks ago, but there have been fears of possible attacks for a very long time, even years," Shakib Sharifzai, a citizen from Nangarhar told The National, outlining that both state and private institutions, including Nangarhar University, Nangarhar Medical University, and the separate Nangarhar Computer Science Faculty.

Haji Gul Wahaj, an assistant professor at Nangarhar University, confirmed that their institute received a warning from security agencies ahead of a graduation ceremony two weeks ago.

Although the ceremony took place without disruption, very few students and families showed up.

"They have closed down in the last two weeks due to threats from Daesh," Mr Wahaj said of the ISIS threats.

The closures com as Taliban leaders say they are massing fighters for a decisive operation to drive ISIS from Nangarhar, following a similar offensive that routed the latter from the country's north.


Read more:

Taliban prepare 'decisive' anti-ISIS operation in eastern Afghanistan


A declining security situation had already been affecting class attendance.

"Fewer students are attending; lecturers are also afraid to take sessions or conduct field visits," Mr Wahaj said. Many students from other provinces have also returned back to their homes without having completed their course, he added.

Nargarhar province lies in eastern Afghanistan
Nargarhar province lies in eastern Afghanistan

The Nangarhar provincial government has denied that the universities are shut because of terrorist threats, saying that it is normal for universities to remain closed during summer weeks.

"Considering the many previous attacks in Nangarhar, some groups have spread messages claiming that universities are under threat, but that isn't true," Ataullah Khogyani, spokesman to the governor of Nangarhar told The National, dismissing any reports of threats.

However, several sources, including from within the University of Nangarhar, contradicted Mr Khogyani and confirmed to The National that the closure was not seasonal but because they had received warnings from security agencies of possible attacks that target educational facilities.

In a similar situation in June, the local government had to close down girls schools in the provincial capital of Jalalabad after a threat from ISIS.

And last week, a girls school was set on fire in Nangarhar. In the province of Logar, located less than 60 kilometres from Kabul, over a 100 schools were shut earlier this month, by officials following threats from the Taliban. These schools reopened this week after negotiations between the local Taliban leaders and the government.