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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

Afghanistan: ISIS claims suicide bomb attack on Sikhs and Hindus

The militant group said it targeted a group of 'polytheists'

Afghan Sikhs carry the coffin of one of the 19 victims of a suicide attack in Jalalabad on July 2, 2018, a day after the attack. Grief mixed with anger among Afghanistan's minority Sikh and Hindu community on July 2 as they prepared for funerals of loved ones, including an election candidate, killed in a suicide attack.Noorullah Shirzada / AFP
Afghan Sikhs carry the coffin of one of the 19 victims of a suicide attack in Jalalabad on July 2, 2018, a day after the attack. Grief mixed with anger among Afghanistan's minority Sikh and Hindu community on July 2 as they prepared for funerals of loved ones, including an election candidate, killed in a suicide attack.Noorullah Shirzada / AFP

ISIS has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in eastern Afghanistan that killed at least 19 people, mostly Sikhs and Hindus.

The bomber targeted a delegation from the minority communities as it was traveling to the governor's residence in the eastern city of Jalalabad on Sunday for a meeting with President Ashraf Ghani.

Avtar Singh Khalsa, a long-time leader of the Sikh community, was among those killed. Another 20 people were wounded.

In a statement released on Monday, ISIS said it had targeted a group of "polytheists."

Sikhs and Hindus face discrimination in the conservative Muslim country and have been targeted by Islamic extremists in the past, leading many to emigrate. The community numbered more than 80,000 in the 1970s, but today only about 1,000 remain.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

ISIS, which has an affiliate in the province, was not part of the ceasefire. The group fights both government forces and the Taliban, which has shown no sign of letting up its campaign of violence.

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