Sources within the Afghan presidential palace confirmed Friday to VOA’s Afghan Service that President Ashraf Ghani has signed an execution order for 11 jailed insurgents on death row.
They include four members of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network that the government has blamed for the suicide bombing Wednesday that killed more than 80 people and injured hundreds more in Kabul’s tightly guarded Green Zone.
However, Anas Haqqani, son of group founder Jalalluddin Haqqani, was not on the execution list. He was arrested in 2014 and sentenced to death last year. The others are affiliated with the Quetta Shura group.
The Taliban threatened retaliation if the Afghan government follows through, issuing a statement vowing attacks on the Afghan judiciary and promising to kill foreign detainees.
Two American University of Afghanistan professors -- Kevin King, 60, an American, and Timothy John Weeks, 48, an Australian -- were kidnapped Aug. 7 outside the AUAF campus. A Haqqani network video of the two kidnapped men released by the Taliban in January showed them appealing to President Donald Trump for their release.
The university issued a statement Friday asking for the immediate and unconditional release of the professors.
“Kevin and Tim are innocents,” the statement said. “Both came here to teach young Afghans, helping them to contribute to the rebuilding efforts of Afghanistan. We call for their release now, unharmed to join their families, friends, and colleagues."
Pressure has been mounting on the government to bring some of the jailed Taliban insurgents, including Anas Haqqani, to justice, for the bombing, which it claims was orchestrated by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency of complicity. Pakistan denied the allegations.
Officials say the resurgent Taliban now holds more that 40 percent of the country’s rural land, though the government cites a policy to focus more on protecting urban areas. That strategy took a major hit with the latest bombing, analysts say.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, told VOA’s Afghan Service that executing the prisoners “can be part of a broader policy by the government but it should not be the only reaction to the massive bombing.”
But “the government needs to have a new policy and the prisoners issue can be part of that policy,” Khalilzad said.
VOA’s Noor Zahid contributed to this report.