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Gunmen Kidnap 17 in Afghanistan

by AFP
T. J. Kirkpatrick—AFP

T. J. Kirkpatrick—AFP

Minority Hazaras pulled out of their vehicles in Sar-e-Pul province and taken to areas under Taliban control.

Gunmen on Thursday kidnapped at least 17 people traveling in civilian vehicles in northern Afghanistan, officials said, in the second group abduction within a week, underscoring the worsening security situation in the country.

The passengers, all minority Hazaras, were pulled out of their vehicles in Sancharak district in Sar-e-Pul province and taken to a remote area controlled by Taliban insurgents, the local governor said. “They are all innocent civilians with no government connections. We have asked local elders to talk to the Taliban commanders and secure their release,” said Governor Zaher Wahdat.

There was no immediate comment from the Taliban.

The three-million-strong Afghan Hazara community has been persecuted for decades, with thousands killed in the late 1990s by Al Qaeda and the Taliban. There has been a surge in violence against the community, with a series of kidnappings and killings in recent months that have triggered a wave of fury on social media.

The incident occurred two days after the Taliban killed 10 bus passengers, many of them summarily executed, and kidnapped dozens of others in northern Kunduz province. The insurgents said they were targeting Afghan security officials aboard the buses passing through the insurgency-prone district of Aliabad, as the insurgents step up their annual spring offensive after naming a new leader last week.

Hundreds of people chanting “Death to Taliban” protested in Kabul on Thursday against the violence in Kunduz. “How long will people have to suffer bloodshed?” said protester Sayed Mohammad. “Neither government staff nor civilians are safe to come out of their homes.”

The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan voiced concern over the growing incidents of attacks against civilian vehicles. “Taking civilians hostage is indefensible,” UNAMA chief Nicholas Haysom said in a statement. “I call for the immediate and unconditional release of all civilians detained and a halt to this horrible practice.”

The Taliban last week announced Haibatullah Akhundzada as their new leader, elevating a low-profile religious figure in a swift power transition after officially confirming the death of Mullah Mansour in a U.S. drone strike. The drone attack was the first known American assault on a top Afghan Taliban leader on Pakistani soil.

Observers say Akhundzada, who is seen as more of a spiritual figurehead than a military commander, will emulate Mansour in shunning peace talks and intensifying attacks against the Afghan government.

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