Gunmen kidnapped and killed 26 civilians, including children, in an isolated central province in the latest violence attributed to loyalists of Islamic State in Afghanistan, officials said Wednesday.
Officials in Ghor province said the civilians were abducted Tuesday outside the provincial capital of Ferozkoh during fighting between the gunmen and Afghan security forces.
The gunmen were Taliban insurgents who now claimed allegiance to Islamic State, the militant organization based in Iraq and Syria that has carried out several bloody attacks in Afghanistan, officials said.
Ghulam Nasir Khadeh, the provincial governor, said by phone that authorities in Ferozkoh had received 26 bodies of more than 30 who were abducted on Tuesday. The whereabouts of the others were not immediately known.
The Taliban denied involvement in the incident.
Qari Yusuf Ahmadi, a spokesman for the insurgent group, called it “shocking.”
Fazlulhaq Ehsan, head of the provincial council in Ghor, said the civilians were shepherds and farmers who were ethnic Tajiks.
The leader of the gunmen, whom officials identified as Faruq, was killed in the fighting with security forces, and reports suggested the hostages were taken in retaliation. Faruq was a well-known outlaw in the province, one of Afghanistan’s poorest, who swore allegiance to Islamic State about a year ago, officials said.
Islamic State in Khorasan – the militant group’s branch in Afghanistan and Pakistan – has been blamed since last year for a series of kidnappings of members of the Hazara ethnic minority, who are targeted by the Sunni Muslim extremists because they are Shiites.
Earlier this year, Islamic State claimed responsibility for bombing a massive Hazara protest in the capital, Kabul, which killed more than 80 people. This month, the group also attacked a Shiite mosque in Kabul, killing at least 18 people.
Even as Islamic State’s bases in Iraq and Syria come under pressure by government forces in both countries, the militant group has shown its ability to carry out massive violence, particularly in South Asia. On Monday it claimed responsibility for a raid on a Pakistani police academy that left more than 60 people dead in the northwestern city of Quetta.
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan condemned the deliberate targeting of civilians.
“I am outraged by these senseless and brutal killings,” Pernille Kardel, acting head of the U.N. mission, said in a statement. “This is an atrocity and the perpetrators must be held accountable.”
The human rights group Amnesty International called on the Afghan government to investigate the killings and hold the perpetrators accountable.
“The abduction and killing of nearly 30 civilians, including children, is a horrendous crime,” said the group’s South Asia director, Champa Patel. “There can be no justification whatsoever for targeting and killing civilians under any circumstances.”
Special correspondent Faizy reported from Kabul and staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.
Follow @SBengali on Twitter for more news from South Asia
7:45 a.m.: This article was updated with reaction from the United Nations and Amnesty International, and to correct the day that officials spoke to Wednesday.
3:35 a.m., Oct. 26: This article was updated with a higher death toll and details from government officials.
This article was originally published Oct. 25 at 11:45 p.m.