Map showing Helmand province, Afghanistan
Map showing Helmand province, Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD - Hours after claiming responsibility for kidnapping 27 passengers in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban announced late Tuesday that it had freed all but six of the abductees.

The latest incident of mass kidnapping happened early in the day in restive Helmand province, where Afghan security forces have been battling the insurgents to reverse recent battlefield losses. 

Heavily armed men stopped some 14 vehicles, including buses near the district of Gereshk and abducted dozens of passengers, said Abdul Ghafoor Tokhi, the head of the provincial transportation department.

He told VOA that the freed passengers were allowed to resume their journey on the main highway, which links southern Kandahar and western Herat provinces. Tokhi said he did not know the ethnicities of those involved.  Afghan officials have not commented on the latest development.

Herat province, Afghanistan

Taliban claim responsibility

A Taliban spokesman said passengers with no links to government institutions or the Afghan security forces were freed after an initial investigation, but issued a warning.

“If it is established that these men participated in [anti-Taliban] security operations by [foreign] invading forces or their enslaved [Kabul] regime, they will be held accountable for their actions,” the spokesman warned. 

The incident marked the third mass kidnapping this month by the Taliban. The insurgents had abducted some 200 passengers on a highway in the northern Kunduz province in early June. While some are still with the Taliban, more than a dozen hostages were executed, prompting widespread condemnation locally and internationally. 

In another incident in early June the Taliban abducted 17 passengers in northern Afghanistan. Those passengers were later released when local tribal elders intervened.

Concerns in Kabul

Police in Kabul are reported to have recently told foreigners living outside protected compounds to travel with guards, saying “the kidnapping and criminal threat is very serious” in the capital city.

The warning came after the kidnapping of an Indian aid worker earlier this month. Judith D’Souza, 40, was abducted on June 9 from a central Kabul area. Her whereabouts are still unknown and there have been no claims of responsibility.

On Monday, a Taliban suicide bomber attacked a minibus in the Afghan capital carrying mostly Nepalese nationals. The explosion killed 14 of them while five others were wounded. The victims were part of the security staff at the Canadian Embassy in Kabul.

Police and fire fighters are seen at the site of a
Police and fire fighters are seen at the site of a blast in Kabul, June 20, 2016.