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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The bodies of 11 men, their heads cut off and placed next to them, have been found in a violent southern province of Afghanistan, a senior police official said on Friday.
A police patrol discovered the bodies on Thursday in the Khas Uruzgan district of Uruzgan province, north of the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, said police official Mohammad Gulab Wardak.
"This was the work of the Taliban. They beheaded these men because they were ethnic Hazaras and Shi'ite Muslims," he said.
The Taliban were not immediately available for comment about the incident. The militants usually dispute claims by Afghan and foreign security forces.
Hazaras, who make up roughly 15 percent of Afghanistan's population of around 30 million, largely follow the Shi'ite sect of Islam, a minority in Afghanistan, rather than the Sunni Muslim Taliban, who are also primarily ethnic Pashtuns.
Hazaras faced widespread oppression from the Taliban when the Islamists ruled most of the country during the 1990s. Mass graves containing the bodies of Hazaras have been found since the militants were overthrown in late 2001.
Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst levels in the 9-year war, with the Taliban stepping up their campaign of suicide bombings and assassinations, particularly in their Kandahar heartland.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a report to the 15-nation Security Council last week, said there had been an "alarming" rise in bomb and suicide attacks in Afghanistan over the past few months.
Some 80 foreign troops have been killed so far in June, making it the deadliest month for international forces since the war began. More than 300 troops have been killed so far this year compared with about 520 deaths for all of 2009.
On Friday, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force reported the deaths of two more troops in Afghanistan, one in the east and one in the south.
Reporting by Ismail Sameem; Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Paul Tait