Gunmen storm Sikh religious complex in Kabul, many feared trapped

Gunmen and suicide bombers have stormed a Sikh religious complex in the Afghan capital Kabul and were locked in a continuing battle with security forces, the Ministry of Interior has said.

Security forces cordoned off the area, located in old Kabul, and were trying to counter the attack, which began at 7:45am local time, Ministry of Interior spokesman Tariq Arian said in a message to journalists.

“People are stuck inside the building and (security forces) are trying to rescue them,” Arian told AFP news agency.

Narindra Singh Khalsa, a parliamentarian from the minority Sikh community, told AP news agency he had been near the Gurdwara – the Sikh place of worship – when the attack happened and ran to the site. He said at least four people were killed.

Khalsa later told Reuters News Agency that many people were still inside the building. “The gunmen started their attack at a time when the Dharamsala was full of worshippers,” he said, referring to a sanctuary area in the temple compound.

Another Sikh member of Parliament said there were “about 150 people inside the temple”.

“Some people inside the temple are hiding and their phones are off. I am very concerned,” Anarkali Kaur Honaryar told AFP news agency. 

The Taliban denied any involvement in the attack. But it was not immediately clear how many attackers there were or who they were. Earlier this month an affiliate of the ISIL (ISIS) armed group attacked a gathering of minority Shia Muslims in Kabul, killing 32 people.

The attack comes a day after the US said it would cut its aid to the government by $1bn over frustrations that feuding political leaders could not reach an agreement and form a team to negotiate with the Taliban.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Kabul on Tuesday in a bid to resolve a standoff between President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who also proclaims himself president following a contested election.

The US and the Taliban signed a deal last month that was supposed to pave the way for talks between the Afghan leadership and the rebels, but with Kabul unable to agree on who is in government, the talks have stalled.

Sikhs, who number fewer than 300 families, have suffered widespread discrimination in the country and have also been targeted by armed groups.

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