Authorities in Afghanistan said Wednesday that extremists linked to Islamic State have abducted and massacred at least 30 civilians in a remote central region.
The overnight bloodshed near the capital of the mountainous Ghor province is alarming for local officials because it is the first known IS activity in the area, where the Shiite Hazara community is the predominant majority.
Loyalists of the Middle East based terrorist group are primarily concentrated in eastern Nangarhar province and in adjoining districts along the border with Pakistan.
The victims were collecting wood for winter in the mountains near the city when Daesh (IS) gunmen captured them,” provincial government spokesman, Abdul Hai Khatibi, told VOA, using the Arabic acronym for IS.
He added that the gunmen executed the abductees Tuesday night while Afghan security forces were attempting to rescue them with the help of local residents.
Amnesty International demanded Afghan authorities carry out an independent investigation into the abduction and killing of nearly 30 civilians, calling it "a horrendous crime."
"There can be no justification whatsoever for targeting and killing civilians under any circumstances. The victims and their families deserve justice," the rights defender said in a statement.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabhilluah Mujahid, said that his group was not involved in the incident, saying reports linking the Taliban to the killing of civilians are "nothing but propaganda."
Afghan civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict and extremist attacks in the country. The United Nations has documented nearly 8,000 conflict-related civilian casualties, including more than 2,500 deaths, in the first nine months of 2016.
The execution of Afghan civilians came a day after IS claimed responsibility for a deadly suicide raid on a police training center in neighboring Pakistan.
That attack in Quetta, capital of southwestern Baluchistan province, killed least 62 young recruits and wounded more than 120 others.
Islamic State launched its extremist activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan in early 2015 after declaring the region as 'Islamic State of Khorasan" or IS-K.
The commander of the U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, has acknowledged that IS is “very focused” on trying to establish its Khorasan caliphate in the region. He said that former militants of the anti-state Pakistani Taliban, called Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), are also helping the group further its extremist agenda.
“We are seeing foreign fighters in particular Uzbeks, some from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, have joined them…Many of them are Pakistani Pashtun (militants) from the TTP who joined IS-K…So, it is principally a non-Afghan movement trying to establish a caliphate inside Afghanistan,” the US general told NBC earlier this week.
Nicholson said the Afghan people have completely rejected IS philosophy for being “the antithesis of Afghan culture and society,” adding the U.S. military is helping local security forces to drive the militants out of the country.
The joint operations, he added, have inflicted heavy casualties on IS militants in recent months, also killing its regional chief, Hafiz Saeed Khan, a former Pakistani militant commander.
General Nicholson, however admitted that long porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan poses a major challenge in preventing militant movement in both directions.
Pakistani officials have confirmed the assailants involved in Monday night's attack on the Quetta police academy included Uzbek militants.
A picture of a dead militant resembled one of the men in a picture of the three suicide bombers the IS news agency published on its website.