Mass murder, gang rapes and house-to-house searches by death squads: Based on civilian testimonies, Amnesty International has catalogued a number of atrocities attributed to the Taliban in the embattled city of Kunduz.
As Afghan government forces continue their efforts to drive the Taliban out of the strategically important city of Kunduz, Amnesty International (AI) has released alarming testimonies by civilians citing mass murder, abductions, rape, and house-to-house searches by Taliban death squads during the Islamist group's brief capture of the provincial capital earlier this week.
Citing local rights defenders, AI said that in order to track down their targets, the Taliban used a "hit list," which allegedly included the names and photos of activists, journalists and civil servants based in Afghanistan's fifth-largest city.
The rights organization explained that when the militants took control of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) and other government and NGO offices in Kunduz on Monday, September 28, they also gained access to reams of information about NGO staff, government employees and members of the security forces - including addresses, phone numbers and photos.
"Since then, Taliban fighters have allegedly been using young boys to help them to conduct house-to-house searches to locate and abduct their targets, including women," said the group.
Citing local activists, AI also said the insurgents raped female relatives and killed family members, including children, of police commanders and soldiers, especially those working for the Afghanistan Local Police.
During their three-day takeover of Kunduz, Taliban fighters looted state buildings and family homes, took government vehicles and arms, and freed hundreds of inmates from the local prison, where they reportedly also raped, battered, and abducted female prisoners, according to AI.
An eyewitness told the group that a civilian woman wounded in the fighting between the Taliban and the security forces was killed point blank and in front of her husband, after they heard her screaming in pain.
'Who can rescue us?'
"When the Taliban asserted their control over Kunduz, they claimed to be bringing law and order and Shariah to the city. But everything they have done has violated both. I don't know who can rescue us from this situation," a female rights defender from Kunduz told the rights group.
Kunduz resident Fasel Ahmad spoke to DW's Pashtu-Dari Service about his experiences in the city during this time. He said electricity had been cut off and there were no telephone services. The militants then set media outlets ablaze, robbed banks, blocked all major roads and closed shops in the city, making it almost impossible for people to get bread or drinking water.
"The Taliban penetrated deep into residential areas and threatened the population. They wanted us to take part in the fighting," Ahmad said, adding that the wounded couldn't be taken to hospitals as they were occupied by the fighters.
AI also accused Taliban fighters of exposing civilians to attacks by hiding in the residential homes, a development that led Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to accuse the Islamist group of using civilians as human shields. Pictures on social media also purported to show Taliban fighters using a vehicle belonging to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
"The harrowing accounts we've received paint a picture of a reign of terror" said AI's Horia Mosadiq in a statement. "The multiple credible reports of killings, rapes and other horrors meted out against the city's residents must prompt the Afghan authorities to do more now to protect civilians, in particular in areas where more fighting appears imminent."
These testimonies of lawlessness and violence reflect the heavy toll the latest round of fighting in the northern Afghan city has taken on the 300,000 local residents. But there is more. Up to 6,000 residents have been forced to flee the city, and the UN is now seeking to verify reports that at least 110 others have keen killed or injured.
"We fear that many more civilians may be harmed if fighting continues over the next few days," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, in a statement earlier this week. Although the precise number of casualties is still unknown, so far 49 bodies and more than 370 wounded people have been brought to the city hospitals, according to health officials.
For instance, medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said in a statement that their trauma hospital in Kunduz has been overwhelmed with wounded. "Since Monday morning, we have received 296 wounded patients, including 64 children. Seventy-four of our patients arrived in a critical condition. Most have gunshot wounds from being caught in the crossfire. Our surgeons have been treating very severe abdominal wounds and limb and head injuries," Dr Masood Nasim, who is MSF's team leader in the area, said in a statement released on October 1.
The ICRC is also increasingly concerned, arguing that the priority at the moment is to ensure the safety of civilians and the delivery of essential medical material to the hospitals. "We are very short-staffed in the hospitals. The medical staff in the city cannot get to the hospitals because of the ongoing fighting," said ICRC doctor Peter Esmith Ewoi in a statement.
In the meantime, the battle over Kunduz rages on. There are still reports of pitched gunfights a day after government forces said they had recaptured most of the key city that had fallen to the militants in their biggest victory since being ousted from power in a US-led invasion 14 years ago.
The three days it took to bring Kunduz back under government control may also have political repercussions as pressure increases on the government in Kabul. Analysts say this will not only add to the sense of unease about the Taliban's capabilities, but also sharpen the sentiment against the national unity government whose first year in power has been overshadowed by infighting and escalating violence around the country.