A suicide bomber blew himself up in a city in eastern Afghanistan where President Ashraf Ghani was visiting, killing at least 19 people, many of them Sikhs, officials said Sunday, in the latest violence to rock the country.
The attacker struck a market located hundreds of metres from the provincial governor’s compound where Ghani was holding meetings, governor spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told AFP.
Devastating news from Afghanistan: 15 Sikhs, including Parliamentary candidate, Avtar Singh Khalsa killed by a suicide bomber in Jalalabad. As a Sikh in deep grief, I call Afghanistan a rogue state. The few remaining Sikhs of Afghanistan are the most endangered minority of Asia. pic.twitter.com/ZTsOq1n4WL
— Harjinder Singh Kukreja (@SinghLions) July 1, 2018
Among the 19 dead were 12 Sikhs and Hindus, he told AFP. Another 20 people were wounded.
There were scenes of anguish at the hospital where grieving relatives wept and hugged each other as they waited for news of their loved ones.
“It is over for us, we are finished, they have massacred us, at least 10 of us,” a man told AFP, too upset to give his name.
Provincial health director Najibullah Kamawal confirmed 19 people had been killed, the majority of them Sikhs.
Small communities of Sikhs and Hindus reside in what is otherwise an overwhelmingly Muslim nation. It is not clear if they were the intended target of the attack.
Gen. Ghulam Sanayee Stanekzai, Nangarhar’s police chief, said that the attacker targeted the group on its way to the governor’s compound. They had planned to meet with President Ashraf Ghani, who was visiting the region on Sunday.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Taliban and an Islamic State affiliate are active in the province.
Sikhs and Hindus have long suffered widespread discrimination in the conservative Muslim country and been targeted by Islamic extremists. Today the community is comprised of only around 1,000 people. Under Taliban rule in the late 1990s, they were told to identify themselves by wearing yellow armbands, but the dictate was not wholly enforced. In recent years, large numbers of Sikhs and Hindus have sought asylum in India, which has a Hindu majority and a large Sikh population.
Afghanistan’s infrastructure has suffered from decades of war, and many rural communities do not have access to electricity or clean running water.