South Asia

Islamic State Attack on Gurudwara in Kabul Leaves 25 Dead; India, US Condemn Strike

In a nightmare that last six hours for over a hundred people, four terrorists, including suicide bombers, attacked Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib in Kabul at around 7.45 am local time.

New Delhi: At least 25 people are dead after terrorists attacked a gurudwara in Kabul on Wednesday morning. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility.

There was immediate condemnation from India and the United States, with demands for justice.

Four terrorists, including suicide bombers, attacked Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib in Kabul at around 7.45 am local time (8.45 IST). There were around 120 people inside the gurudwara, including 20 families, when the attack began, as per media reports.

According to SITE, which monitors jihadists networks, the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack.

It took six hours for Afghan security forces to end the attack after killing all four terrorists.

The Afghan ministry of interior stated that at least 25 people were killed and eight wounded in the attack. In total, 80 people including women and children were rescued, said the ministry’s statement.

Videos and photos from the attack showed scared and crying children being ferried out from the site. In another video, children were huddled and whimpering, while officials took down their names.

There were heartrending scenes of members of Afghanistan’s tiny minority wailing and desperately crying as they waited outside the hospital.

The Islamic State had previously attacked a gathering of Sikh and Hindus, who were waiting to meet Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, in Jalalabad in 2018, leaving 19 dead.

There are reportedly only a couple of hundred Hindus and Sikhs left in Afghanistan – the remnants of a larger and prosperous community. Most of them started to migrate to India and the West from Afghanistan over the years, especially after the Taliban ruled Kabul and imposed severe restrictions on minorities.

In a statement condemning the attack, India said that it was ready to extend all possible assistance to the affected families of the Hindu and Sikh community in Afghanistan.

“Such cowardly attacks on the places of religious worship of the minority community, especially at this time of COVID-19 pandemic, is reflective of the diabolical mindset of the perpetrators and their backers,” said the statement issued by Ministry of External Affairs.

The reference to ‘backers’ in the Indian statement is a dig at Pakistan. While Islamic State has taken responsibility for the attack, Indian officials consider the IS as yet another front that is supported by Islamabad.

NATO soldiers inspect near the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan March 25, 2020. Photo: Reuters/Mohammad Ismail

India praised Afghan security forces for their “valorous response to the attack and their exemplary courage and dedication to protect the Afghan people and secure the country”.

In conclusion, the statement added that that India stood in “solidarity with the people, the Government and the security forces of Afghanistan in their efforts for bringing peace and security to the country”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered his condolences to the families of the victims killed in the attack:

The US embassy in Afghanistan condemned “these fanatics and criminals who target a house of worship to harm innocents”.

“Peace will only come when people resolve their differences through words, not guns,” it asserted.

Afghan National Security Advisor Hamidullah Mohib tweeted that he also strongly condemned the attack on “our Sikh sisters and brothers”.

“This attack shows why a comprehensive ceasefire is a need and why we insisted on a peace process that puts an end to all forms of violence against the Afghan people,” said Mohib.

The senior Afghan government official was referring to Kabul’s position on the peace agreement between US and Taliban, which is supposed to have led to intra-Afghan talks and a comprehensive ceasefire. However, the talks have yet to start, as the Afghan government and the Taliban do not agree on the modalities for the release of Taliban prisoners.

The Taliban have agreed to a “reduction in violence”, but the Islamic State in Afghanistan are not part of the peace process and have carried out several attacks since the signing of the peace agreement.

Afghanistan is also mired in a political crisis, with the victory of Ashraf Ghani in the presidential elections challenged by Abdullah Abdullah, his political rival and former Afghan chief executive officer. While Ghani’s election has been recognised by the international community, Abdullah organised a separate inauguration ceremony.

Abdullah also tweeted that the attack against the “peaceful community” of Sikhs is “unconscionable”. Describing Afghanistan as a “rich and colourful multicultural community”, he said no effort will be spared to bring the culprits to justice.

Former president Hamid Karzai called it an “attack on the people of Afghanistan”.

The Pakistan government also issued a statement condemning the attack. “Such attacks have no political, religious or moral justification and must be rejected outright,” said the Pakistani foreign office spokesperson.

Note: The story has been updated to reflect the toll and other additional inputs.