KABUL (Reuters) - Gunmen and suicide bombers raided a Sikh religious complex in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Wednesday, killing 25 people before security forces killed all of the attackers, the government said.
The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement, saying it was revenge for India’s treatment of Muslims in its portion of Kashmir and threatening further attacks.
Sikhs have been targeted by Islamist militants in South Asia before. Their community in Afghanistan numbers fewer than 300 families.
Several hours after the early morning attack began, Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said an operation by the security forces was over and all attackers had been killed. He did not say how many.
The ministry said 25 people in the religious compound had been killed, eight wounded and 80 rescued.
Narender Singh Khalsa, a member of parliament who represents the Sikh community, said he received reports that up to 200 people had been trapped in the complex during the attack.
“Three suicide bombers entered a dharamsala,” he said, referring to a sanctuary area in a temple compound. “The gunmen started their attack at a time when the dharamsala was full of worshippers.”
The day began normally, according to Sikh community members, with the more than 100 living in the complex beginning worship and some joining from outside around 6 a.m.
An hour later, their prayers were interrupted when attackers killed a guard on the way into the compound and began shooting in the shrine before security forces arrived and residents fled elsewhere in compound to shelter.
“The children were very scared, still they are crying and shouting. They will not forget this incident, they are in bad mental states,” said Gurnam Singh, 30, a witness.
Several members of Harander Singh’s family were killed.
“The attackers arrived on the stairs and started killing the women. My nephew shouted and said to me ‘Uncle, please go downstairs’, and when I tried to go downstairs, they shot my nephew in the head,” he said.
His wife, father and young daughter were also killed.
“My dearest daughter was wounded, and she was repeatedly calling me ‘Dad’ before she died,” he said, through tears.
In the late 1980s, there were about 500,000 Sikhs scattered across Afghanistan, but most fled after years of civil war and the rise of the Taliban.
A Taliban spokesman denied responsibility for the attack on Twitter.
Rights activists, Afghan officials and countries including the United States, India and Pakistan condemned the attack.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the attack “horrific” and urged “Afghans to come together to negotiate a political settlement” to help confront the militant group.
In 2018, an Islamic State-claimed suicide bombing targeting the Sikh community killed more than a dozen people in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad.
The latest attack was carried out a day after the United States said it would cut aid to the government by $1 billion over frustrations that feuding political leaders could not reach agreement and form a team to negotiate with the Taliban.
President Ashraf Ghani said he had directed deputy ministers to save $1 billion in security and defence spending, while maintaining the quality of security forces.
An official with Afghanistan’s NATO mission said the response to the attack had been led and executed by Afghan forces, with some advice and assistance from NATO.
Wednesday’s violence was the second big attack against a minority group claimed by the Islamic State this month. More than 30 people were shot dead in a gathering attended by many members of the ethnic Hazara community on March 6.
Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi; additional reporting by Alaa Swilam, Zainullah Stanekzai, Sayed Hassib and Akram; Addititional reporting by Jonathan Landay and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Kim Coghill, Robert Birsel and Timothy Heritage
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