Militants linked to the Islamic State group killed at least 30 civilians hostages in the central Afghan province of Ghor, the local government said Wednesday.
Around 30 people in central Afghanistan – including several children – have been kidnapped and killed by jihadists with links to Isis, sparking worries over the group’s expanding ideological presence even as it suffers territorial losses in Syria and Iraq.
The villagers from north of Firoz Koh, the capital of Ghor province, were abducted in what officials said was a revenge attack after security forces killed a local Isis commander in a shootout on Tuesday.
“Our security forces with the help of locals conducted an operation and killed a Daesh [Isis] commander yesterday. Daesh fighters in return abducted around 30 villagers, mostly shepherds,” Ghor Governor Nasir Khazeh said on Wednesday. “Their dead bodies were found by local people this morning.”
The horrific attack was carried out by Taliban renegades who have pledged allegiance to Isis, said Abdul Hameed Nateqi, a Ghor council member.
The mass execution of civilians – which Isis has not official claimed – is a significant development, showing as it does the group’s influence is expanding across the country despite efforts by the Afghan army to stamp them out.
The jihadist group has been making gains across Afghanistan, winning over tribal leaders disillusioned with the failings of the Kabul government and attracting defectors from the Taliban, whom are also still waging an insurgency war against President Ashraf Ghani.
Until Tuesday’s attack, though, Isis’ activities had been largely confined to the eastern province of Nangarhar, where it is notorious for brutality including beheadings.
The Afghan government is currently in the middle of an operation against Isis in the province, backed by Nato air strikes.
“Right now we see [Isis] very focused on trying to establish their caliphate… inside Afghanistan,” John Nicholson, the top US and Nato commander in the country, told reporters on Sunday.
“Of course with our Afghan partners we have been able to reduce that territory significantly and inflict heavy casualties on them.”
Isis has carried out a spate of car and suicide bombings across the country, including two explosions in Kabul in July which killed at least 85 people and wounded more than 400. The incident was the deadliest single attack in Afghanistan since the Taliban were removed from power by the US in 2001.
The group are under increased military pressure in their territory across Syria and Iraq: a US-backed offensive to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul began last week, and an operation to free Raqqa in Syria is expected shortly.