KABUL (Reuters) – Unidentified gunmen and suicide bombers attacked a Sikh religious complex in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Wednesday, and up to 200 people were believed to be trapped inside, a member of parliament said.
Afghan security forces had blocked off the area and were battling the attackers, and had killed two of them, Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said in a message to journalists.
“The majority of people were rescued, unfortunately there are casualties,” he said, adding that defence forces would take some time to entirely secure the area as they were moving slowly to prevent civilian casualties.
It was not immediately clear how many attackers there were or who they were.
A Ministry of Health spokesman said one child had been killed and 15 people wounded but the toll could rise.
Sikhs have been the target of attack by Islamist militants before in South Asia. A Taliban spokesman, in a message on Twitter, denied responsibility for the attack.
Narender Singh Khalsa, a member of parliament who represents the tiny Sikh community, said he had reports that four people had been killed and up to 200 people trapped inside the temple in the early morning 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,” he said.
The attack comes a day after the United States said it would cut its aid to the government by $1 billion over frustrations that feuding political leaders could not reach an agreement and form a team to negotiate with the Taliban.
A NATO Resolute Support defence official said the response to the attack had been led and executed by Afghan forces, but received some advice and assistance from NATO.
Sikhs are a small religious minority in Afghanistan numbering fewer than 300 families. They are among the persecuted minorities eligible for citizenship in India under a citizenship law Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has drawn backlash because it does not include Muslims.
Anarkali Kaur Honaryar a member of the Sikh community and an Afghan senator, said the Sikh complex in Kabul contained places of worship and areas where families live.
“Gunmen are spread in the whole complex, there is fear that the attackers entered the main praying place and fear of large casualties is there too,” he said.
Human rights activists condemned the attack. Amnesty International South Asia tweeted; “We are shocked and disheartened…the authorities have a responsibility to protect minorities and their places of worship in Afghanistan.”
In 2018, a suicide bombing targeting the Sikh community and claimed by the Islamic State militant group killed more than a dozen people in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad.
The United States last month struck a deal with the Taliban on the withdrawal of U.S.-led international troops but the agreement does not include Islamic State militants.
Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi; writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Kim Coghill, Robert Birsel
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