KUNDUZ: The Taliban killed at least 16 people on Tuesday and kidnapped dozens of others after pulling them off buses in northern Afghanistan, officials said.
The Taliban claimed they were targeting Afghan security officials aboard the buses passing through Aliabad district in the province of Kunduz, where the militants briefly overran the provincial capital in a stunning military victory last year.
Around 200 passengers were travelling in four buses towards Kabul when they were waylaid by Taliban gunmen, with some killed on the side of the road at point-blank range, officials said.
“The Taliban shot dead 16 passengers and they are still holding more than 30 others,” said Sayed Mahmood Danish, spokesman for the governor of Kunduz.
Regional police commander Shir Aziz Kamawal gave a death toll of 17 and did not clearly confirm the identities of the passengers.
“They (Taliban) have released some passengers but are holding many others. None of the passengers were wearing military uniform but some may have been former police,” he said.
Residents of insurgency-prone Aliabad said the Taliban were holding an informal ‘court’ in a local mosque, scrutinising the ID documents of the abducted passengers and interrogating them for any government links.
“We had precise intelligence that 26 Afghan commandoes and police were among the passengers,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said, adding that six of them were killed while trying to escape.
Highways around Afghanistan passing through insurgency-prone areas have become exceedingly dangerous, with the Taliban and other armed groups frequently kidnapping or killing travellers.
Civilians are increasingly caught in the crosshairs of Afghanistan’s worsening conflict as the Taliban step up their annual spring offensive, launched in April against the Western-backed Kabul government.
Tuesday’s incident comes a day after the Taliban overran multiple police checkpoints in Helmand, the first major assault in the opium-rich southern province since the change in Taliban leadership.
The Taliban last Wednesday announced Haibatullah Akhundzada as their new leader, elevating a religious figure in a swift power transition after confirming the death of Mullah Mansour in a US drone strike.
Mansour was killed just nine months after being formally appointed leader following a bitter power struggle upon the confirmation of the death of Taliban founder Mullah Omar.
Observers say that Akhundzada, who is seen as more of a spiritual figurehead than a militant commander, will emulate Mansour in shunning peace talks with the Afghan government.
Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2016