At least 25 worshippers were killed and eight others injured when a heavily armed suicide bomber stormed his way into a prominent Gurdwara on Wednesday in the heart of Afghanistan's capital of Kabul, in one of the deadliest attacks on the minority Sikh community in the strife-torn country.
The Islamic State (IS) terror group, which has targeted Sikhs before in Afghanistan, claimed responsibility for the attack on the Gurdwara in Shor Bazar area at about 07.45 (local time) as 150 worshippers were inside the building.
'Unfortunately, 25 civilians were killed and eight others injured,' the Ministry of Interior said in a tweet on the attack carried out by a gunman, who was killed by Afghan special forces.
It said 80 people stranded inside the gurdwara were rescued by the security forces.
Earlier, the Afghan media reported that the attack that lasted for about six hours was carried out by four terrorists.
The ministry said in a statement that 80 people, including women and children, were rescued from the Gurdwara.
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.
TOLOnews, quoting sources in the Afghan government blaming the dreaded Haqqani group for the attack.
The Pakistan-based Haqqani group, designated by the United States as a banned terror outfit, has conducted several deadly attacks inside Afghanistan.
Earlier, the country's main militant group, the Taliban, denied their involvement in the attack on the Gurdwara.
Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement that the militant group had no link with the attack in Shor Bazar area of Kabul.
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 Khalsa told reporters that up to 150 people were praying inside the gurdwara when it came under attack.
Khalsa, the only representative of the Sikh community in Afghanistan said he received a call from a worshipper inside the Gurdwara, informing him about the attack.
"I rushed over to help. There were about 150 worshippers inside the Gurdwara at the time of the attack," he 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.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack on the gurdwara, TOLOnews reported.
"The attack on the religious sites shows the extreme weakness of the enemy, religious sites should not be vulnerable to attacks and violence,” it quoted Ghani as saying.
The president's spokesperson described the attack as "yet another heartless, cowardly terrorist attack on a worshipping place in Kabul.
The Afghan government strongly condemns today's senseless attack on Dharamsala Sikh temple.
"Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this heinous act," the spokesperson said.
Former president of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the attack on the Gurdwara and expressed his condolences to the victims' families.
In New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was saddened by the attack on the Gurdwara.
The Ministry of External Affairs also strongly condemned the terror attack and said the targeting of a religious place in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak reflects the 'diabolical mindset' of the perpetrators and their backers.
"India stands ready to extend all possible assistance to the affected families of the Hindu and Sikh community of Afghanistan," it said while expressing condolence to the families of the victims.
"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," the MEA said.
It said 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.
"We commend the brave 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," the MEA said.
Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri too strongly condemned the attack, saying that these killings are a grim reminder of the atrocities that continue to be inflicted upon religious minorities in some countries.
'Suicide attack on a Gurudwara Sahib in Kabul needs to be strongly condemned.
'These killings are a grim reminder of atrocities that continue to be inflicted upon religious minorities in some countries & the urgency with which their lives & religious freedom have to be safeguarded,' Puri tweeted.
In another tweet, Puri, who is also the Union housing and urban affairs minister, said that he spoke to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar who assured him that necessary steps are being taken to extend a helping hand.
'Members of Sikh-Hindu Association of Afghanistan in West Delhi conveyed their deep sense of anguish at the heinous terror attack on a 400 yr old Gurudwara Sahib in Kabul when I spoke with them through a call arranged by my party colleague Sh Rajiv Babbar earlier today,' Puri tweeted.
He also said on Twiiter, 'I conveyed their concern & anger to my friend & colleague @DrSJaishankar after the GoM today. He assured me that he has been in touch with our ambassador in Kabul & that all necessary steps are being taken to extend a helping hand.'
Pakistan also strongly condemned the 'heinous terrorist attack' carried out by the IS.
'Such despicable attacks have no political, religious or moral justification and must be rejected outright,' the Foreign Office said in a statement.
Terming it as a 'heinous terrorist attack', the Foreign Office said, 'Our hearts go out to the families who have lost their loved ones in this inhuman act and we pray for the swiftest recovery of the injured. We also express our abiding solidarity with the fraternal people of Afghanistan.'
The statement said Pakistan condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.
All places of worship are sacrosanct and their sanctity must be respected at all times, it said.
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 United States, 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.
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.