KABUL, Mar 25:
At least 25 worshippers were killed and eight others injured when heavily armed suicide bombers blasted their way into a prominent gurdwara today in the heart of Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul, in one of the deadliest attacks on the minority Sikh community in the strife-torn country.
The Islamic State (IS) terror group, which has targeted Sikhs before in Afghanistan, claimed responsibility for the attack on the gurdwara in Shor Bazar area at about 07:45 (local time) as 150 worshippers were inside the building.
“At least 25 people were killed and 8 others were wounded in the attack at Dharamshala, a Sikh worship place in Kabul,” TOLO news quoted the Ministry of Interior as saying on the attack that lasted nearly six hours. Click here to watch video
“All four suicide bombers who attacked Dharamshala, a Sikh worship area in PD1 of Kabul, were killed after nearly six hours of fighting. Afghan special forces confirmed,” it said in a tweet.
The Ministry said in a statement that 80 people, including women and children, were rescued from the gurdwara.
The ISIS terrorist group, which has targeted Sikhs before in Afghanistan, claimed responsibility for the latest attack.
The group issued a statement confirming that its members carried out the attack on Sikhs in Kabul city, Khaama Press News Agency reported.
Photos from the blast scene showed security forces carrying wounded people away on stretchers. Some Afghan media outlets shared videos of the family members of victims waiting outside a city hospital in tears.
Police in Kabul said that at least 11 children were rescued from the gurdwara.
Sikh lawmaker Narendar Singh Khalsa told reporters that up to 150 people were praying inside the gurdwara when it came under attack.
Khalsa, the only representative of the Sikh community in Afghanistan said he received a call from a worshipper inside the gurdwara, informing him about the attack.
“I rushed over to help. There were about 150 worshippers inside the gurdwara at the time of the attack,” he was quoted as saying by the official Bakhtar News Agency.
“Afghan forces have cleared the first floor of a Sikh worship area in PD1 of Kabul. A number of people have been rescued who were trapped inside the building,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian.
President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack on the gurdwara, TOLO news reported.
“The attack on the religious sites shows the extreme weakness of the enemy, religious sites should not be vulnerable to attacks and violence,” it quoted Ghani as saying.
The President’s spokesperson described the attack as “yet another heartless, cowardly terrorist attack on a worshipping place in Kabul. The Afghan government strongly condemns today’s senseless attack on Dharamsala Sikh temple.
“Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this heinous act,” the spokesperson said.
Former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the attack on the gurdwara and expressed his condolences to the victims’ families.
Earlier, the country’s main militant group, the Taliban, denied involvement in the attack.
Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement that the militant group had no link with the attack in Shor Bazar area of Kabul.
In New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was saddened by the attack on the gurdwara.
The Ministry of External Affairs also strongly condemned the terror attack and said the targeting of a religious place in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak reflects the “diabolical mindset” of the perpetrators and their backers.
“India stands ready to extend all possible assistance to the affected families of the Hindu and Sikh community of Afghanistan,” it said while expressing condolence to the families of the victims.
“Such cowardly attacks on the places of religious worship of the minority community, especially at this time of COVID-19 pandemic, is reflective of the diabolical mindset of the perpetrators and their backers,” the MEA said.
It said India stood in solidarity with the people, the government and the security forces of Afghanistan in their efforts for bringing peace and security to the country.
“We commend the brave Afghan security forces for their valorous response to the attack and their exemplary courage and dedication to protect the Afghan people and secure the country,” the MEA said.
War-torn Afghanistan is currently mired in a political stalemate with two politicians- Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah – both claiming victory in the presidential election.
The US, keen to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, has been trying to break the deadlock and also save a historic deal it signed with the Taliban militant group that is supposed to pave the way for peace in the country.
The attack comes a day after the US said it would cut its aid to the government by USD 1 billion over frustrations that the political leaders could not reach an agreement and form a team to negotiate with the Taliban.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Kabul on Tuesday in a bid to resolve a standoff between President Ghani and his rival Abdullah, who also proclaims himself president following a contested election.
Sikhs have been target of attacks by Islamist militants before in Afghanistan.
In July 2018, ISIS terrorists bombed a gathering of Sikhs and Hindus in the eastern city of Jalalabad, killing 19 people and injuring 20.
Awtar Singh Khalsa, one of the country’s best-known Sikh politicians then, was among those killed in the attack. (PTI)
KABUL, Mar 25: