A lone Islamic State gunman rampaged through a Sikh house of worship in the heart of the Afghan capital Wednesday, killing 25 worshippers and wounding eight, Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry said.
The gunman held many worshippers hostage for several hours while Afghan special forces, helped by international troops, tried to clear the building. At least one of the dead was a child.
Within hours, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Afghan special forces rescued at least 80 worshippers who had been trapped inside the Sikh house of worship, known as a Gurdwara, as the gunman lobbed grenades and fired his automatic rifle into the crowd, the ministry said.
Earlier, Afghan lawmaker Narindra Singh Khalsa said he rushed over to help after receiving a call from a person inside the Gurdwara telling him of the attack. There were about 150 people inside at the time, he said.
The SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks militant postings and groups, said IS claimed responsibility for the attack on the group’s Aamaq media arm. The communique identified the gunman as Indian national Abu Khalid al-Hindi, who carried out the attack to avenge the plight of Muslims living under severe restrictions in Indian-ruled Kashmir, Hindu India’s only Muslim dominated state.
At a Kabul hospital, Mohan Singh, who was in the Gurdwara when the attack began, said he first heard the sound of gunshots and ducked for cover under a table. Later he heard explosions, adding that he believes they were hand grenades. He was wounded when parts of the ceiling fell on him.
In photographs shared by the Interior Ministry, about a dozen children were seen being rushed out of the Gurdwara by Afghan special forces, many of them barefoot and crying.
As news of the attack first broke, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed tweeted that the Taliban were not involved. Earlier this month, Afghanistan’s IS affiliate struck a gathering of minority Shiite Muslims in Kabul, killing 32 people.
Afghanistan’s National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib condemned the attack in a tweet while neighboring Pakistan and India both issued statements of condemnation. Pakistan described the attack as “heinous.”
“Such despicable acts have no political, religious or moral justification and must be rejected outright,” the Pakistani Foreign Ministry statement said.
India said the attack was particularly egregious coming as Afghanistan sought to deal with the growing coronavirus pandemic.