Gunmen stopped a convoy of three minivans traveling through central Afghanistan and executed 14 Shiite Muslims in a rare attack on the country's religious minority, a local official said Wednesday.
The attack shortly after midnight in Ghor province marked one of the relatively few major instances of sectarian killings in Afghanistan's 13-year war.
The buses, carrying a total of more than 30 passengers, were traveling from Ghor to the Afghan capital, Kabul, said Abdulhai Khatibi, spokesman for the provincial governor. Many of the travelers were going to Kabul to shop before Eid, the coming holiday that marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Khatibi said.
The attack occurred in Chikhchiran, just outside Ghor's capital.
Khatibi said the gunmen identified the Shiite passengers and systematically shot them before releasing the others. The dead were members of the ethnic Hazara community, and included a police academy student, a pregnant woman and two other females, he said.
Local officials identified the gunmen as members of the Taliban, but the insurgent group denied responsibility.
Afghanistan has not conducted a proper census in over four decades, but 20% of the population is believed to be Shiite, with most coming from the Hazara and Tajik ethnic minorities. Shiites were persecuted in the late 1990s when Afghanistan was ruled by the Taliban.
The deadliest recent attack against Shiites in Afghanistan came in 2011, when 58 worshipers were killed in twin bombings in Kabul and the nothern city of Mazar-e-Sharif on the holy day of Ashura. A Pakistan-based militant group claimed responsibility for the bombings.
Violence against Shiite Hazaras has been far graver in neighboring Pakistan, where Sunni extremist groups, particularly in Baluchistan province, have killed hundreds since 2008. Last month, Human Rights Watch called on Pakistan's government to take "all necessary measures" to stop the Sunni militants from carrying out further killings.
Special correspondent Baktash reported from Kabul and staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.