When the shells began to fall on the University of Aleppo campus Tuesday morning, students were doing what university students everywhere do: walking to class, joking with friends, eating snacks, drinking coffee, deciphering their own handwritten notes and worrying about what might be on the next day’s quiz.
When the dust cleared four hours later, an estimated eight shells had fallen on the university. Five students were dead, and 12 were injured, some critically. No group has claimed responsibility for Tuesday's shelling, but the university is in regime-held west Aleppo and rebel factions reportedly shelled at least eight other regime districts there the same day.
Pictures reportedly taken inside the university campus on Tuesday show blood spattered on the ground, burnt-out cars, damaged buildings and bloodied papers on the ground. Pictures of three young men reported killed by the shells also widely circulated online.
Over past two weeks, as Russian and Syrian regime forces wage a massive aerial and ground assault against rebel-held east Aleppo and its 250,000 residents, rebels based there have regularly shelled the city’s regime-held west. Rebel shelling of west Aleppo, where an estimated 1.5 million people live, has killed at least 25 people and injuring dozens of others, while regime and Russian bombing of the east killed and injured hundreds.
Tuesday’s bombing of the University of Aleppo, the second-largest university in Syria, was part of broader shelling of west Aleppo neighborhoods that wounded a total of 67 people, Syrian state media agency SANA reported.
One day after the attacks, university students and staff are struggling to come to terms not only with what happened but what the attack means for their educational aspirations, Ahmed, a professor at the University of Aleppo tells Syria Direct’s Mohammad Al-Haj Ali.
“Most students and employees are absent,” says Ahmed, not his real name. “It shocked and terrified everybody.” Those killed included a woman and four men, including engineering, law and science students.
“To those responsible, we say: God sees everything that happens.”
Q: Describe what happened at the University of Aleppo campus on Tuesday.
The first missile fell at approximately 11am, near the Faculty of Pharmacology. Then a second fell next to the Faculty of Economics. At that point, two students were dead, four were injured, and a car was burned.
Around 45 minutes later, a [shell] fell between the dorms and the Faculty of Sciences. That was followed by another on the parking garage of the Faculty of Pharmacology and the computer lab. On-and-off shelling continued until 3pm. The other shells fell in the square in front of the Faculty of Dentistry, the Faculty of Nursing and the Agricultural Institute and its cafeteria, resulting in the other deaths and injuries.
The toll is not yet final, but five people were killed and 12 injured, including people in critical condition. We just learned of the deaths of two of the students a few moments ago. One was a law student, the other was studying agriculture.
Aleppo University campus on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Zahraa District News.
Q: What is the university like today [Wednesday]? Are there classes? How are students responding to what happened?
University activity is stable today, but you couldn’t say it’s normal. Most students and employees are absent. [The shelling] shocked and terrified everybody. Activity today is about 35 percent of what it was before.
Classes are continuing, but the students are calling for classes to be cancelled, at least for a little while.
So far, [specific measures to protect students] have not been taken. They may be in the future, but we can’t say for sure.
Q: Do you know more about the students who were killed?
They were all from Aleppo city. There was Mirna Tawil, she was studying engineering. Muhammad Atou studied law, and Muhammad Salem was a student at the Faculty of Sciences. Ghaith Tabaq and Muhammad Qusayr also died, but we have not been able to determine their majors yet. We’re still waiting on a report to verify.
Q: Is this the first time the university has been shelled? Who was behind it?
This is not the first time that the University of Aleppo was targeted, unfortunately. We don’t have any information or statistics about previous attacks, but the result is always heartbreaking. Every time, people are killed.
[Ed.: In one prominent attack, a January 2013 bombing of the university left up to 80 people dead, most of them students. The regime blamed “terrorists” for the attack, while opposition activists accused the regime.]
We can’t accuse any party of this crime. We say to those responsible: God sees everything that happens.
Q: Are students now afraid to study at the university? How many students are there compared with before the war began? Is there a social life on campus?
Students have a constant sense of fear of studying at the university. Most of them have left. Before the crisis, the university had 85,000 students. Now, it’s down to around 20,000.
The lives of university students are like those of Aleppo residents as a whole. They are suffering.