KANDAHAR: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani yesterday condemned the beheading of a group of Shiite Hazaras, including a child, in the southern province of Zabul, the scene of deadly clashes between rival Taleban groups.
Local officials in Zabul province said the headless bodies of four men, two women and one child, who were kidnapped by armed men in October from neighboring Ghazni province, were found in Khak-i-Afghan district of troubled Zabul on Sunday.
The circumstances surrounding the beheadings are unclear. Some local officials pointed the finger at fighters from the Islamic State group (IS) in the province, but the government does not have control of the area and the claim could not be independently verified.
Groups associated with IS have made growing inroads in Afghanistan this year, attracting fighters and support away from disenchanted members of the Taleban.
“The heartless killing of innocent individuals, especially women and children, has no justification in any religion or creed,” Ghani said in a statement. Ghani, who was “profoundly saddened” by the killing, said he would convene “an extraordinary security meeting to seek ways for tracking down and punishing the perpetrators of this atrocious crime” later yesterday.
The US also issued a statement condemning “yesterday’s beheading of seven civilians, including women and a child” through its embassy in Kabul. Also yesterday Afghan officials said heavy fighting continued between militants from the two groups of Taliban in at least three districts of Zabul province.
The skirmishes, which first erupted on Saturday, involved fighters loyal to the widely-recognised Taleban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour and fighters led by Mansoor Dadullah.
Dadullah is a deputy in the splinter group announced last week by Mohamed Rasool, in the first formal split within the Taleban since the death of long-term leader Mullah Omar. Islam Gul Seyal, the provincial governor’s spokesman, said the fighting in Arghandab, Khak-Afghan and Daichopan districts continued yesterday, and had left dozens of militants from both sides killed and injured. The extent of the fighting and more precise figures could not be verified.
Meanwhile, rival groups of Taleban militants have clashed in the southern Afghan province of Zabul, killing as many as 80 people in recent days, officials said yesterday, as brewing hostility between factions in the insurgency turned violent. Government officials and spokesmen for the two main Taleban groups said fierce fighting had been underway since the weekend, with each side blaming the other for starting the violence.
Insurgents who have pledged allegiance to Islamic State may also have been involved. Seven members of the mainly Shia Hazara ethnic group, including three women and a child, were found with their throats cut on Sunday in an incident police blamed on Islamic State militants.
The fighting, in one of the Taleban’s traditional southern strongholds, underlined the risk of fragmentation facing the Islamist movement since it announced earlier this year that its founder, Mullah Omar, had died two years ago. A prolonged split in the movement could further complicate the resumption of peace talks with the government, which broke down in July following the announcement of Mullah Omar’s death. – Agencies