Afghanistan Sikh complex attacked

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Gunmen and suicide bombers hit a Sikh religious complex in the Afghan capital Kabul killing 25 people before security forces killed all the attackers, government said.

The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility 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.

Hours after the attack started, Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said an operation by security forces was over and all attackers killed. He did not say how many.

The ministry said 25 people in the religious compound were killed, eight wounded and 80 rescued.

Narender Singh Khalsa, a member of parliament who represents the Sikh community,  received reports up to 200 people were 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 attacked when the dharamsala was full of worshippers.”

The day began normally, according to Sikh community members, with the more than 100 in the complex beginning worship and some joining from outside.

An hour later, prayers were interrupted when attackers killed a guard and began shooting in the shrine before security forces arrived and residents fled to shelter.

“The children were scared, they are crying and shouting. They will not forget this incident, they are in bad mental states,” said Gurnam Singh, a witness.

INTERNATIONAL CONDEMNATION

Several of Harander Singh’s family were killed.

“The attackers arrived and started killing the women. My nephew shouted and said ‘Uncle, please go downstairs’. When I tried, they shot my nephew in the head,” he said.

His wife, father and young daughter were also killed.

“My daughter was wounded and she repeatedly called 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 US, India and Pakistan condemned the attack.

In Washington, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the attack “horrific” and urged “Afghans to come together to negotiate a political settlement” to confront the militant group.

In 2018, an Islamic State-claimed suicide bombing targeting the Sikh community killed more than a dozen people in Jalalabad.

The latest attack came a day after the US said it would cut aid to government by $1 billion over frustrations feuding political leaders could not reach agreement and form a team to negotiate with the Taliban.

President Ashraf Ghani 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 was led and executed by Afghan forces, with advice and assistance from NATO.

Wednesday’s violence was the second major attack against a minority group claimed by the Islamic State this month. More than 30 people were shot dead in a gathering attended by the ethnic Hazara community on March 6.