Taliban display bodies of alleged ‘kidnappers’, ‘insurgents’ and ‘thieves’
In recent weeks, there has been a spate of incidents in Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat city in which the Taliban have displayed the bodies of men they describe as ‘kidnappers’, ‘insurgents’ or ‘thieves’.
17 Mar 2023
Warning: this article contains graphic details and images, which AW has made efforts to censor. On March 8 images of four dead bodies surfaced online, alongside claims that the Taliban killed “eight kidnappers and insurgents” in the Khwaja Khairan area of Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh province.
The Spokesperson for Balkh Police Headquarters, Mohammad Asif Waziri, [WARNING: GRAPHIC] claimed the eight “kidnappers and rebels” had been killed in a joint operation the night before by the 888th operational unit and the police headquarters of Balkh province. Waziri tweeted a photograph showing three other dead bodies of alleged kidnappers.
According to TOLO News, eight alleged kidnappers were killed and two Taliban members were injured after two and a half hours of clashes in the seventh police district (PD 7) area of Mazar-i-Sharif city. However, AW were only able to verify seven deceased bodies in the images shared online.
The Taliban claimed they confiscated several weapons from the alleged kidnappers. AW investigators confirmed the presence of at least three AK47 rifles and one TT-33 pistol, as shown below. An AK47 rifle positioned next to the second body (2) seen above has strong similarities with the AK47 placed next to the third body (3). An unnatural placement of the firearm is visible with the TT-93 pistol seen below, indicating that the gun was put in the left hand of the first body (1). This suggests the weapons could have been positioned next to the bodies after their deaths and before the photographs were taken.
Bodies publicly displayed
Between 0700 and 0900 local time – a few hours after the first claim appeared on social media – a video was shared online. The video shows the men’s bodies on public display and can be geolocated to the Kefayat roundabout in Mazar-i-Sharif, however, only six bodies of the eight allegedly killed can be seen.
Family members protest killings, claims of executions
On March 10, TOLO News reported that the family members of the alleged kidnappers protested in front of the UNAMA office, claiming that the men were innocent. However, Abdul Nafeh Takor, the spokesperson for the Taliban’s Ministry of Interior Affairs, said the eight alleged kidnappers were killed "after they showed armed resistance.”
Tajuden Soroush, a journalist from Afghanistan International, claimed that he spoke with the family members of the alleged kidnappers, who said that those killed were first handcuffed and then shot in the head from a distance of one metre. A woman was also reportedly present at the scene – her husband was killed, but she was left alive. The family members claimed the Taliban told them there was a misunderstanding after they demanded answers, though this cannot be independently verified and there is no official statement along these lines.
AW can verify that some of the victims were shot in the head, while others were shot in different body parts. There is a notable absence of both shell casings on the floor in the room and bullet holes in the wall, which would be expected in the aftermath of a firefight. Several of the victims also appear to have faint markings on their wrists that are consistent with restraints. AW will continue to gather and examine evidence to see if the families’ claims of executions can be further verified.
At least one of the victims was identified by an influential social media account as Abdul Khaliq Kochi, who allegedly served as a soldier under the former government of Afghanistan.
Second incident: two ‘thieves’
On March 8, in a separate incident, the Taliban displayed the bodies of two alleged thieves also in Mazar-i-Sharif city, Balkh province. Mukhtar Wafayee, a journalist from the Independent Persian, [WARNING: GRAPHIC] tweeted that “moments ago, the Taliban displayed the bodies of two other people who had been shot on Ahmad Shah Massoud Road in the centre of Mazar-e-Sharif.”
AW investigators geolocated the image shared on social media to the Massoud roundabout, near the eastern gate of the Blue Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif. The two sets of bodies displayed in the city centre were positioned at opposite gates to the Blue Mosque. Whilst the eight alleged "kidnappers and rebels" were placed near the western entrance, the two alleged thieves were placed near the eastern gate.
The Taliban’s Police Spokesperson in Mazar-i-Sharif, Mohammad Asif Waziri, [WARNING: Graphic] claimed that "four armed robbers” had tried to steal from a housing block in Kart-e Sulh area of Mazar-i Sharif, but two of them were killed in a face-to-face battle with Taliban security forces. According to Waziri, two others managed to escape and are “under surveillance.”
Bodies displayed in Herat
The incidents in Mazar-i-Sharif follow similar events in Herat in late February, when the Taliban displayed the bodies of alleged ‘thieves’ and ‘robbers’ in two other separate incidents.
On February 21, [WARNING: GRAPHIC] images of two dead bodies in Herat province were shared on social media. According to online claims, the Taliban's General Directorate of Intelligence (GDI) killed two alleged armed thieves after a brief gunfight in PD5 of Herat city. The Taliban publicly displayed the dead bodies of the alleged thieves at a roundabout in Chowk-e-Gulha in PD2 of Herat city.
The Taliban's GDI confirmed the killing of two alleged thieves by posting a [WARNING: GRAPHIC] video of the bodies at the scene of the gunfight. The video describes how the alleged thieves were wanted men for several days but were killed after a brief clash with the Taliban's GDI members. The Taliban claimed they recovered a handgun and motorcycle from the alleged thieves. AW investigators verified the presence of a handgun near the bodies but could not confirm if it belonged to one of the victims.
Second incident in Herat: ‘Robbery and Resistance’
The following day, on February 22, social media users shared images of two dead bodies publicly hanging from their feet in Herat province. On one of the dead bodies, the Taliban allegedly wrote “this is the punishment for robbery and resistance”. One pro-Taliban Twitter user claimed that the two men were killed in an exchange of gunfire while attempting to carry out a guerrilla attack on the head of the City Management Department of PD13, Herat city.
However, another Twitter user claimed that the Taliban deliberately killed two Hazara men aged 16 and 18 after following them in the Jebreal district of PD13. According to the claim, the men had allegedly already surrendered but were shot dead by the Taliban.
According to a [WARNING: GRAPHIC] tweet from the Taliban's GDI, the two individuals were suspected of theft and were killed in a brief exchange of gunfire in PD13 of Herat city. The Taliban claimed to have recovered a handgun and a knife from the alleged thieves. AW investigators verified the presence of the two weapons near the body, as seen in the figure below.
The Jebreal district is a predominantly Hazara area of Herat city, and the facial features of the deceased men – captured in various images – are consistent with them being of Hazara background.
While this was the first public display of bodies in Herat in 2023, a similar incident occurred exactly a year ago to the day, on February 21, 2022, when the bodies of three ‘alleged kidnappers’ were displayed in different parts of Herat city. AW verified the incident and reported that one of the ‘kidnappers’ was a former military officer who had worked for the former Provincial Governor’s security team, based on an interview with a source close to the individual.