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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 July 2018

Sikhs among 19 killed in Afghanistan bombing

Attack in Jalalabad came as Afghan president Ashraf Ghani was visiting the city

Afghan policemen inspect the site of a suicide bomb blast in Jalalabad on July 1, 2018, that killed at least 19 people as President Ashraf Ghani visited the city. Parwiz / Reuters
Afghan policemen inspect the site of a suicide bomb blast in Jalalabad on July 1, 2018, that killed at least 19 people as President Ashraf Ghani visited the city. Parwiz / Reuters

Nineteen people, many of them Sikhs, were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up in Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan, as President Ashraf Ghani visited the city,

The attacker struck a market hundreds of metres from the provincial governor's compound where Mr Ghani was holding meetings, said Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for Nangarhar governor.

Among the 19 dead were 12 Sikhs and Hindus, he said. Another 20 people were wounded in the attack, which was claimed by ISIS.

Avtar Singh, the only Sikh candidate running in Afghanistan's October 20 parliamentary and district council elections, was among the dead, an Indian embassy official said.

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," said a relative.

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.

Interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish confirmed a suicide bomber carried out the attack – the latest in a series of recent deadly assaults in the restive province.

Mr Ghani's spokesman said the president was still in Nangarhar but was "away from danger".

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Mr Ghani had arrived in Jalalabad earlier on Sunday to open a hospital, part of a two-day visit to the province bordering Pakistan.

The attack came a day after he ordered Afghan security forces to resume offensive operations against the Taliban following the expiration of the government's 18-day ceasefire.

The government's truce overlapped with the Taliban's three-day ceasefire for Eid, but the militants refused to extend it.

The ceasefire over the holiday capping Ramadan triggered spontaneous street celebrations involving Taliban fighters, security forces, and war-weary civilians.

But it was marred by two suicide attacks in Nangarhar that killed dozens of people and were claimed by ISIS, which has a smaller but relatively potent presence in Afghanistan. The extremist group was not part of the ceasefire.

The attack came as United States envoy Alice Wells visited Kabul as part of efforts to ratchet up pressure on the Taliban to engage in peace talks.

The Taliban have so far ignored Mr Ghani's offer of peace negotiations. Instead, they have insisted on direct talks with the US, which Washington has repeatedly refused.

Ms Wells said that since the Afghan government and US were willing to start talking without preconditions, the onus was now on the Taliban to respond.

"Right now it's the Taliban leaders ... who aren't residing in Afghanistan, who are the obstacle to a negotiated political settlement," she said.

Ms Wells said Pakistan, where she is due to hold talks on Monday, also needed to do more to pressure the Taliban to join the peace talks.

"Pakistan has an important role to play ... but we have not yet seen that sustained and decisive action on the part of Islamabad," she said.