Afghan Taliban kill nine, kidnap 20 bus passengers, army rescues 140 others

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Taliban insurgents killed nine people and kidnapped 20 others when they held up three buses in northern Afghanistan on Tuesday, while the remaining 140 passengers had to be rescued by Afghan forces, the local deputy police chief said.

The attackers stopped the buses on a road and ordered the passengers out, shot dead nine of them and kidnapped the rest, said Massoum Hashemi, deputy police chief of Kunduz.

“The Taliban have brutally killed nine civilians and taken about 20 with them,” Hashemi said.

Afghan forces then rescued the remaining 140 passengers, he said.

The Taliban, who are waging a bloody insurgency to topple the foreign-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani, said they killed six and took 20 members of the Afghan security forces with them.

“After we searched the buses, we detained 26 police and army personnel in civilian clothes with evidence,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

“Six were killed after trying to escape and the rest are in our custody,” Mujahid added.

The police in Kunduz did not confirm if security forces were among the kidnapped or killed, but Sher Aziz Kamawal, a senior police official, said those killed may have been government employees who were carrying identity cards.

A campaign of kidnappings against Afghanistan’s Hazara ethnic minority has become a source of tension, fueling concern about sectarian violence. The Hazara are Shi’ite Muslims who are considered heretics by the hardline Sunni Taliban movement.

Since persecuting Hazaras and other minorities during their rule in the 1990s, the Taliban have largely avoided specifically targeting Shi’ites.

But a rise in Afghanistan in the number of militants claiming allegiance to Islamic State, a hard-line Sunni movement that emphasizes purging Shi’ites and is a rival to the Taliban, has coincided with a number of attacks on Hazaras.

The brief capture by the Taliban of Kunduz last year was a major blow to Ghani’s government.

As security in the north has deteriorated there has also been heavy fighting in the southern province of Helmand.

Reporting by Folad Hamdard and Feroz Sultani, Writing by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Kay Johnson and Raissa Kasolowsky