The New York Times, October 26, 2016

ISIS Kills 23 Civilian Hostages in Western Afghanistan

“They killed 23 shepherds and took away with them about a thousand sheep belonging to those they killed”

By Rod Nordland and Jawad Sukhanyar

KABUL, Afghanistan — Gunmen who claim to be followers of the Islamic State killed 23 civilian hostages in a remote province in western Afghanistan, officials said on Wednesday.

The killings on Tuesday in Ghor Province were the most recent indication that the extremist organization, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has been gaining adherents in new parts of the country, even as the authorities have successfully moved against its strongholds in the eastern province of Nangarhar, which borders Pakistan.

Provincial police and government officials in Ghor said the killings were carried out by a former Taliban unit with 150 members who had defected from that insurgent group and declared allegiance to the Islamic State. The Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid quickly disassociated his group from the deaths, posting a message on his Twitter account saying the killings had “nothing to do with the mujahedeen,” a term referring to Taliban fighters.

The bodies of some of the 23 civilians killed by Islamic State militants in Ghor Province, Afghanistan
The bodies of some of the 23 civilians killed by Islamic State militants in Ghor Province, Afghanistan. (Photo: Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

The Ghor police chief, Mustafa Mohseni, said the former Taliban unit had clashed in recent days with a pro-government militia, which managed to kill the extremists’ commander, a man known as Farooq, who had led them since before they abandoned the Taliban.

The fighting took place outside Feroz Koh, formerly known as Chaghcharan, the provincial capital of Ghor. As the insurgents retreated, they rounded up 23 civilians in the area, and on Tuesday executed them, Chief Mohseni and other police officials said. Chief Mohseni was not sure of the number killed, but another police official in Ghor put it at 23. The authorities found out about the killings from local elders who were contacted about the return of the victims’ bodies for burial.

The militants had attacked villages on the outskirts of the provincial capital but met strong resistance from pro-government militiamen, backed by fighters from the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, officials said.

“It was a retaliatory act brutally carried out by those so-called Daeshis,” said Sayed Nader Shah Bahr, a member of Parliament from Ghor, referring to followers of the Islamic State. “They killed 23 shepherds and took away with them about a thousand sheep belonging to those they killed.”

Before pledging allegiance to the Taliban and later the Islamic State, Farooq, the commander, was known as the head of an armed criminal gang notorious for sheep-rustling, local officials said.

Ghor is far from Afghanistan’s main locus of Islamic State activity, in parts of Nangarhar Province, where the extremists have been subjected to American airstrikes as well as government military action in the past two years. Many of the Islamic State fighters in that area also appear to be former Taliban insurgents who have since pledged to follow the Islamic State in the Khorasan, a term referring to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The American military claimed in August to have killed the founder and leader of the Islamic State in the Khorasan, Hafiz Saeed Khan, in an airstrike. Government officials have said that scores of the group’s fighters in Nangarhar have been killed in military operations as well.

Islamic State groups were also operating in the southeastern province of Ghazni and the southwestern province of Helmand last year, but they were reported to have been largely defeated by Taliban insurgents in those areas.

This year, however, Islamic State militants appear to have turned to suicide bomb attacks in urban areas. In January, a bombing outside the Pakistani Consulate in Jalalabad killed seven, and in July, a bombing against ethnic Hazaras at a protest in Kabul killed 80 people. The Islamic State claimed to have carried out both attacks.

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