Kabul: Heavily armed gunmen and suicide bombers blasted their way into a Sikh gurdwara in the heart of Afghanistan's capital of Kabul on Wednesday, killing at least 25 worshippers and wounding 8 others, in one of the deadliest attacks on the minority community in the strife-torn country.
The gunmen attacked the gurdwara in Shor Bazar area at about 07:45 (local time) as 150 worshippers were inside the building, authorities said.
"At least 25 people were killed and 8 others were wounded in the attack at Dharamshala, a Sikh worship place in Kabul," TOLOnews quoted the Ministry of Interior as saying.
"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.
Former president of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the attack on Sikh worship place and expressed his condolences to the victims' families, the report said.
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 Nardendar Singh Khalisa told reporters close to the scene that up to 150 people were praying inside the gurdwara when it came under attack.
The only representative of Sikhs community in Afghanistan said he received a call from a worshipper inside the gurdwara, informing him about the attack.
According to unconfirmed reports at least four people were killed in the attack. Afghan defense forces had blocked off the area and are trying to counter the attack, Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian has said in a statement.#Afghanistan
— Prasar Bharati News Services (@PBNS_India) March 25, 2020
"I rushed over to help. There were about 150 worshippers inside the gurdwara at the time of the attack," Khalisa 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.
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.
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.
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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.