KABUL -- At least 25 people were killed Wednesday (March 25) in an attack on a Sikh-Hindu temple in Kabul where worshippers were offering morning prayers, the latest assault claimed by the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) group.
A man dressed in a police uniform burst into the temple in central Kabul, shot a guard and started attacking worshippers in the main hall, witness Raju Singh Sonny told AFP.
"Several other attackers also entered the building, and they were going from room to room shooting people," Sonny said.
The assault started at about 7.45am local time, said Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian. There were conflicting accounts about how many gunmen were involved, with security sources giving differing numbers between one and four.
At least one terrorist was subsequently killed by security forces in an hours-long clearing operation.
ISIS claimed responsibility, citing Hindu and Sikh violence in Kashmir and other parts of India as a justification for the massacre.
About 150 people had been inside the temple, where several families live and where worshippers gather for morning prayers, Anarkali Kaur Honaryar, a Sikh member of the Afghan parliament, told AFP.
"Some people inside the temple are hiding, and their phones are off," Honaryar said during the massacre.
Twenty-five civilians were killed and eight others wounded, while 80 people were rescued from the temple, said Arian. Graphic images posted online showed several bodies as well as terrified civilians who appeared to be Sikhs running from the scene.
Only a few thousand Sikhs and Hindus are estimated to reside in what is an overwhelmingly Muslim nation.
"Such cowardly attacks on the places of religious worship of the minority community, especially at this time of [the coronavirus] pandemic, is reflective of the diabolical mindset of the perpetrators and their backers," the Indian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Pakistan similarly condemned the massacre, calling it an "inhumane act".
"Such despicable attacks have no political, religious or moral justification and must be rejected outright," the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
ISIS has a history of targeting Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan, including a suicide bombing in Jalalabad in July 2018 that killed 19 people and wounded 21.
In recent months, the insurgent group has suffered mounting setbacks after being hunted by US and Afghan forces, but it still retains the ability to launch assaults on urban centres.
Earlier this month, the group gunned down 32 people and wounded dozens more at a commemoration ceremony in Kabul.