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KABUL — Militants stormed a crowded Sikh temple and housing complex in Kabul on Wednesday, killing at least 25 people in a six-hour siege just as war-ravaged Afghanistan is starting to struggle with the global coronavirus contagion.

The attackers, believed to be Islamic State extremists, struck on a day when nationwide cases of the virus nearly doubled in 24 hours. Officials feared the actual spread is even wider.

The western city of Herat, with roughly 4 million residents, reported 58 positive cases and was put under lockdown. The area shares a porous border with Iran, where the contagion has been especially severe.

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After the attack in Kabul, police cordoned off the area, and special forces officers wore protective masks to guard against coronavirus infection.

The attack began when a heavily armed militant entered a complex that houses dozens of families from the Sikh religious minority and contains a temple.

Ahmad Tariq Arian, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said that eight civilians were wounded and 80 hostages were rescued. Photos provided by security officials showed a large number of crying children among the civilians rescued.

Anarkali Kaur Honaryar, a member of the Afghan senate who had been inside the complex helping load bodies into ambulances, said only one of those killed was a Muslim, who was guarding the temple. The rest were Sikhs, she said, including several women and one child.

Islamic State loyalists claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant media sites. Once waging frequent deadly attacks against vulnerable targets in Afghanistan’s urban centers, the Islamic State has shrunk in size due to sustained military operations.

New York Times