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Afghan Sikhs, Hindus Mourn Victims Of Bombing, Weigh Leaving Country

Ambulances transport the bodies of Afghan Sikhs killed in a suicide attack in Jalalabad on July 2.
Ambulances transport the bodies of Afghan Sikhs killed in a suicide attack in Jalalabad on July 2.

Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan are mourning their dead after a suicide bombing in Jalalabad killed 17 people, with some saying they're considering leaving the country.

Senior members of the community were among those killed as they traveled in a convoy to meet with President Ashraf Ghani, including Awtar Singh Khalsa, a longtime leader of the Sikh community who had planned to run in parliamentary elections scheduled for October.

"We cannot live here anymore," Tejvir Singh, the secretary of a national panel of Hindus and Sikhs whose uncle was killed in the blast, told Reuters on July 2. The attack was claimed by the Islamic State extremist group.

"Our religious practices will not be tolerated by the Islamic terrorists. We are Afghans. The government recognizes us, but terrorists target us because we are not Muslims," he said.

Afghanistan’s tiny Hindu and Sikh minority has endured decades of discrimination in the war-torn country. They have been targeted by Islamic extremists in the past.

The community numbered more than 80,000 in the 1970s, but today only around 1,000 remain in the predominantly Muslim nation.

Following the July 1 Jalalabad attack, some Sikhs have sought shelter at the city's Indian consulate.

"We are left with two choices: to leave for India or to convert to Islam," Baldev Singh, who owns a book and textile shop in Jalalabad, told Reuters.

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India has issued long-term visas to members of Afghanistan's Sikh and Hindu communities.

"They can all live in India without any limitation," said Vinay Kumar, India's ambassador to Afghanistan. "The final call has to be taken by them. We are here to assist them."

Kumar, speaking as he visited New Dehli, said the Indian government is helping to organize the last rites of Sikhs killed in the blast and has offered to take the bodies. But at least nine victims were cremated in Jalalabad, according to Sikh rites.

Not all of the relatives and friends of the victims are considering leaving.

"We are not cowards," Sandeep Singh, a Sikh shopkeeper in Kabul, told Reuters. "Afghanistan is our country and we are not leaving anywhere."

Some Sikhs blamed the Kabul government, which they said has done little to protect the country's religious minorities, who are increasingly the target of attacks.

"This attack has killed many of our elders, those who loved their country more than anything else," Narendar Singh, the son of Avtar Singh, told AFP as he took his father's body from the hospital.

"We were the direct target. The government really does not care about us. We used to be a huge community, but most of us have left."

The UN Security Council condemned the attack "in the strongest terms" on July 2 and called for bringing the perpetrators to justice. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also denounced the bombing.

"The United Nations stands with the people and government of Afghanistan as they strive for peace and reconciliation for their country," UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
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