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Taliban militants execute at least 24 civilians in attack on Afghan bus

The Baltimore Sun

KABUL, Afghanistan - Taliban militants seized a civilian bus in volatile southern Afghanistan and executed at least two dozen passengers, beheading some of them, officials said yesterday.

The attack took place in Kandahar province, the home base of the militant Islamic movement before it was toppled by a U.S.-led invasion in late 2001. The incident illustrated the extreme danger of travel in the Afghan countryside, even along main roads such as the one where the bus was commandeered. Many of those aboard the bus were women and children.

In recent months, Taliban and fellow insurgent groups have been staging attacks on roads that connect major cities in an apparent effort to show that the government does not exert any significant control in the hinterlands.

Reports about the bus attack, which took place Thursday, were sketchy but chilling. Many attacks that take place in distant rural areas do not come to light until days or even weeks later.

Afghan authorities said the passengers were traveling in a two-bus convoy, a measure intended to bolster their safety. Militants manning a makeshift checkpoint fired on the first bus, which accelerated away from them. They were able to halt the second, with about 50 people on board.

Between 24 and 30 passengers were killed execution-style at the scene, according to Police Chief Matiullah Khan of Kandahar province.

Western news agencies quoted a Taliban spokesman as saying that 27 Afghan soldiers were dragged from the captured bus and shot. The army denied that, saying regulations prohibit soldiers from traveling in the area by civilian transport.

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