The Taliban have kidnapped over two dozen bus passengers in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand Province in the latest wave of highway abductions by the militant group in recent weeks.
The militants blocked the main highway connecting the capital Kabul with the south, forcing a number of cars and buses to stop near the town of Gereshk, said a local government spokesman said.
They took at least 27 men hostage from three buses that were heading to the southern province of Kandahar and transferred them to an unknown location.
Afghan police said a search operation is underway to locate the captives.
A district police chief in Helmand said the militant group had initially taken 60 people into captivity, but released some of them.
Taliban said in a statement that the abductees were under investigation.
“Those who are innocent will be released but those who are working for the slave administration of Kabul’s security organs will be submitted to courts,” said Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, in the statement.
The militant group has so far kidnapped over 200 people across the country since the end of May. It has also killed at least 21 people in northern and southern parts of the country.
On May 31, Taliban militants seized several buses in the Aliabad district in the volatile northern province of Kunduz. They pulled out the passengers, gunned down 16 of them and kidnapped 30 others.
The killing occurred a day after a police chief announced that nearly 60 Afghan policemen had been killed by Taliban militants near Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand.
Tuesday’s abductions come almost three weeks after Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was reportedly killed in a US drone strike in western Pakistan.
The militants have intensified their attacks following the appointment of Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada as the group’s new leader.
According to a report by Amnesty International, at least 1.2 million Afghans have been internally displaced due to violence in the past three years.
Estimates show that about 200,000 people have been killed in less than three decades of Taliban militancy in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has been gripped by insecurity since the US and its allies invaded the country as part of Washington’s so-called war on terror. Many parts of the country remain plagued by militancy despite the presence foreign troops from many US allies.