Emergency personnel remove a body at the site of a deadly suicide attack in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, June 7, 2018. A suicide bomber targeted a group of Sikhs and Hindus on their way to meet Afghanistan's president in the eastern city of Jalalabad on Sunday, killing at least 19 people including Avtar Singh Khalsa, a longtime leader of the Sikh community who had planned to run in the parliamentary elections set for October. Credit: AP

KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide attack outside a building where President Ashraf Ghani was meeting with locals in eastern Afghanistan killed nearly 20 people on Sunday, officials said.

Most of the victims were members of the Sikh and Hindu minority groups who were on their way to the meeting, residents said.

The meeting was being held in the Nangahar governor’s compound in the heart of the province’s capital, Jalalabad, which lies near the border with Pakistan.

“We have received 19 bodies and 20 wounded,” Najibullah Kamawal, the head of Nangahar public health department, said by phone.

One of the victims was Awtar Singh Khalsa, a Sikh and the only non-Muslim candidate for the October parliamentary elections, a member of the community said.

The Indian embassy condemned the attack.

“We strongly condemn the heinous and cowardly terrorist attack in Jalalabad today which resulted in the death of 20 innocent Afghans, including 10 members of the Afghan Sikh community and injured more than 20 persons,” it said in a statement. India is the birthplace of Hinduism and Sikhism.

It was unclear whether the attack was aimed at Ghani’s visit. No group immediately asserted responsibility for it. Both Taliban insurgents and affiliates of the Islamic State militant group are active in the province.

The Islamic State last month carried out two suicide attacks on two gatherings involving civilians, government forces and Taliban fighters who were celebrating a short truce announced by the Ghani administration and the Taliban.

On Saturday night, gunmen beheaded three guards at a school in a district in Nangahar, regarded as a bastion of the Islamic State, officials said Sunday.

Suspicion fell on the group, which had threatened weeks ago to target schools in the province, forcing authorities to close a number of schools. The Islamic State has not commented on the Saturday attack.

Ghani was visiting Nangahar to inaugurate a hospital complex and, earlier in the day, had urged security officials to take immediate steps to suppress insurgents in the province.

The province’s governor was quoted in a statement by the presidential palace as saying that he told Ghani that criminal groups and mafia elements also posed a threat to the area.

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