An armed group has stopped two buses traveling to Kabul and took dozens of hostages, mostly members of Hazara Shiite minority, authorities said Tuesday. The Taliban have denied involvement, according to the officials.
Uniformed gunmen dragged 30 male passengers out of two buses after asking for their identification cards, Afghan officials said. The attack occurred along the highway leading to Kabul in southern Afghanistan, on Monday afternoon.
Most of the hostages belong to Hazara ethnic minority, who are predominantly Shiite in mostly Sunni Afghanistan.
"The gunmen who wore national army uniforms were speaking neither Dari nor Pashto (two official languages) and stopped the buses heading from Herat province to the capital Kabul," district governor Abdul Khaliq Ayubi said.
"They have taken 10 men from one bus and 20 from the second. But they did not bother with women and children, who went safely on to Kabul."
Fears of Islamic State
Ayubi also said Taliban militants contacted through tribal elders denied involvement in the kidnapping.
"I think the kidnappers were the members of the new group called Daesh," he added, using the Arabic acronym for "Islamic State" (IS).
The Jihadi group, who is mostly active in Iraq and Syria, has a strongly anti-Shiite agenda. Recently, there have been fears that the group might have been strengthening their influence in Afghanistan.
Hazars targeted by violence
Although no group claimed responsibility immediately after the kidnapping, holding hostages for ransom is not uncommon among armed groups and Taliban faction in Afghanistan.
The fate of the missing passengers was unknown, said Ghulum Jilani Sakhi, the deputy police chief of Zabul province, where the attack took place.
"We are investigating where these people have been taken," he added.
Hazara Shiite Muslims make up some 22 percent of Afghan population and are often targeted by Sunni extremists both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In a similar incident last July, Taliban militants stopped two minibuses in the central province of Ghor and killed 14 Hazara passengers.