An armed group has stopped two buses traveling to Kabul and taken dozens of hostages, mostly members of the Hazara Shiite minority, authorities claim. The Taliban were said to have denied involvement.
Uniformed gunmen dragged 30 male passengers out of two buses after asking for their identification cards, Afghan officials said. The attack occurred Monday afternoon in southern Afghanistan, on a highway to Kabul.
Most of the hostages belong to the Hazara ethnic minority, which is predominantly Shiite in mostly Sunni Afghanistan.
"The gunmen, who wore national army uniforms, were speaking neither Dari nor Pashto (two official languages) and stopped the buses heading from Herat province to the capital Kabul," district governor Abdul Khaliq Ayubi said.
"They have taken 10 men from one bus and 20 from the second. But they did not bother with women and children, who went safely on to Kabul."
Fears of Islamic State
Ayubi also said Taliban militants contacted through tribal elders denied involvement in the kidnapping.
"I think the kidnappers were the members of the new group called Daesh," he added, using the Arabic acronym for "Islamic State" (IS).
The Jihadi group, which is mostly active in Iraq and Syria, has a strongly anti-Shiite agenda. Recently, there have been fears that the group might be strengthening its influence in Afghanistan.
Hazara targeted by violence
Although no group claimed responsibility immediately after the kidnapping, holding hostages for ransom is not uncommon among armed groups and Taliban factions in Afghanistan.
The fate of the missing passengers was unknown, said Ghulum Jilani Sakhi, the deputy police chief of Zabul province, where the attack took place.
"We are investigating where these people have been taken," he added.
Hazara Shiite Muslims make up some 22 percent of the Afghan population and are often targeted by Sunni extremists both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In a similar incident last July, Taliban militants stopped two minibuses in the central province of Ghor and killed 14 Hazara passengers.
dj/rc (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)