Islamic State claims responsibility for deadly attack on Sikh complex in Kabul

An Afghan Sikh inspects a damaged window inside a Sikh religious complex after an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan March 25, 2020. — Reuters pic
An Afghan Sikh inspects a damaged window inside a Sikh religious complex after an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan March 25, 2020. — Reuters pic

KABUL, March 25 — Gunmen and suicide bombers raided a Sikh religious complex in the Afghan capital of Kabul yesterday, 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 6am.

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.

Rights activists, Afghan officials and countries including the United States, India and Pakistan condemned the attack.

In Washington, US 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 US$1 billion (RM4.43 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 US$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.

Yesterday'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. — Reuters

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