Taliban Kills About 30 Riding on Afghan Bus

A policeman guards the highway on which the bus was attacked. The Taliban said it killed 27 soldiers.
A policeman guards the highway on which the bus was attacked. The Taliban said it killed 27 soldiers. (By Allauddin Khan -- Associated Press)
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By Noor Khan
Associated Press
Monday, October 20, 2008

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Oct. 19 -- Taliban fighters stopped a bus traveling on Afghanistan's main highway through a dangerous part of the south, seized about 50 people on board and killed about 30 of them, officials said Sunday.

A Taliban spokesman asserted responsibility for the attack but said fighters killed 27 Afghan soldiers. Afghan officials said that no soldiers were aboard and that the victims were civilians.

Insurgents stopped the bus in a Taliban-controlled area about 40 miles west of Kandahar, said provincial police chief Matiullah Khan.

He said that two buses had been traveling together and that the fighters had tried to stop the first one but failed. He said the insurgents fired at the first bus, killing a child on board.

Officials offered varying death tolls from the attack, which occurred Thursday in an area where government forces cannot travel safely without heavy military protection.

Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, said that 31 people were killed and that six of them were beheaded in an area separate from where the other 25 bodies were found.

Khan originally said that about 40 civilians were killed but later lowered the death toll, saying at a news conference that 24 people had been killed. He said the victims were from northern Afghanistan and were ages 20 to 25.

The number of victims could not be independently verified.

Khan said authorities had arrested four Taliban commanders in the attack.

He dismissed the Taliban's assertion that the victims were soldiers. "The Taliban want to hide the news that they arrested and killed innocent Afghan civilians," Khan said.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said insurgents looked at the documents of the travelers, released all the civilians and killed only soldiers.

Taliban attacks have become increasingly lethal this year, as the militia has gained power and surged throughout southern and eastern Afghanistan. Violence in Afghanistan this year has killed more than 5,100 people -- mostly insurgents -- according to an Associated Press count of figures from Afghan and Western officials.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company