By Baber Khan Sahel
Kabul, Mar 25 (efe-epa).- At least 25 people were killed in an attack claimed by the Islamic State militant group on a Sikh religious complex in the Afghan capital on Wednesday when the temple was full of worshipers, according to officials.
The attack ended around 2pm after a six-hour gunfight between security forces and the attacker, according to the Interior Ministry.
“In this terrorist attack, 25 civilians were martyred and eight more injured. Some 80 civilians, including women and children, who were trapped in the temple, were rescued by special forces,” the ministry said in a statement.
Interior ministry spokesperson Tariq Aryan told EFE that all the civilians killed and injured in the attack “are members of the Sikh community”.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility, as Amaq agency – linked to the terrorist group – released a statement on Telegram describing it as a suicide attack. However, the authenticity of the statement could not be verified independently.
Meanwhile, the Taliban militant group was quick to distance itself from the attack.
“Today’s attack in Kabul city’s Shorbazar area has nothing to do with the mujahidin of the Islamic Emirate (as the Taliban fighters call themselves),” its spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid wrote on Twitter.
Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission released a statement condemning the armed attack and expressed its “concern on continuation of such systematic attacks against the religious minorities of the country.”
Whereas, the US embassy in Kabul posted a tweet expressing its “condolences to the families and victims” in the attack, and condemning the “fanatics & criminals who target a house of worship to harm innocents.”
Religious minorities in the Muslim-majority country of Afghanistan have often come under the attack of Islamist extremist groups.
Suicide bombers of the Islamic State militant group in 2018 targeted a group of Sikh community and killed 19 people, including its leader Awtar Singh Khalsa, in Jalalabad.
Khalsa, who had announced his candidature for parliamentary elections, and other members of the Sikh community were in Jalalabad to meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
More than four decades of armed conflict in Afghanistan has forced thousands of Hindus and Sikhs to seek refuge in other countries, especially India.
The violence and strong social and religious discrimination have drastically reduced the number of Sikhs in Afghanistan to around 1,500 from some 200,000 30 years ago.
The attack comes a day after the United States declared that it was cutting its aid to the Afghan government by $1 billion amid a political crisis between President Ghani and chief executive Abdullah Abdullah triggered by alleged fraud in last year’s presidential polls.
The political feud has delayed the formation of a government-sponsored team to negotiate with the Taliban for intra-Afghan peace talks which were scheduled to kick off by Mar. 10.
The US on Feb. 29 reached an agreement with the Taliban for a roadmap to pull out American troops from the war-ravaged country.
The plan was to start with the withdrawal of 8,600 soldiers within 135 days from the date of the signing of the deal. Currently, some 14,000 US troops remain deployed in the country.
However, the insurgents and the government remain deadlocked over an agreement regarding the swapping of prisoners, which was a part of the US-Taliban accord and considered crucial for the commencement of the intra-Afghan talks. EFE