Twenty-five people were killed and around 10 injured when suicide attackers stormed a Sikh place of worship in the Afghan capital on Wednesday, triggering a six-hour standoff with security forces.
The Islamic State claimed the attack, with a statement issued by the group to the Afghan media saying its members carried out the assault.
The attackers targeted a ‘dharamshala’ in Shor Bazar area of Kabul, which has a sizeable population of the Hindu and Sikh minorities. Reports said the attack began at 7.45 am Afghan time.
All four attackers were killed by Afghan and foreign forces, ending the face-off at the place of worship. Afghan interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian confirmed 25 people were killed and eight others injured.
Arian said more than 80 people, including women and children, were rescued by Afghan special forces. Afghan MP Narender Singh Khalsa said up to 150 people were praying at the ‘dharamshala’ when the attack began.
Images of the shrine posted on social media showed bloodstains on its floor. Other photos showed security forces and local residents evacuating the injured in ambulances. Witnesses said they heard several explosions during the gun battle.
Arian told the media that the suicide attackers entered the ‘dharamshala’ and began exchanging fire with security forces.
The Taliban denied involvement in the attack in messages sent to the Afghan media. Afghan officials said information obtained by security agencies suggested the Haqqani Network, which has close ties to Pakistan’s security establishment, could have been behind the attack.
India condemned the attack and said it was ready to extend all possible assistance to the affected families from the Hindu and Sikh communities.
“Such cowardly attacks on the places of religious worship of the minority community, especially at this time of Covid-19 pandemic, are reflective of the diabolical mindset of the perpetrators and their backers,” the external affairs ministry said in a statement.
The statement commended the Afghan security forces for their “valorous response to the attack and their exemplary courage and dedication”. The statement added: “India stands in solidarity with the people, the government and the security forces of Afghanistan in their efforts for bringing peace and security to the country.”
The attack was also condemned by Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri. “These killings are a grim reminder of atrocities that continue to be inflicted upon religious minorities in some countries & the urgency with which their lives & religious freedom have to be safeguarded,” he tweeted.
The Shor Bazar area of Kabul was once home to several gurdwaras but they were destroyed during the fighting in the 1980s. Many Hindus and Sikhs living in the area also migrated to other countries. Kabul is still home to several thousand Hindus and Sikhs.