Officials say "unknown number" of locals still being held after dozens of civilians killed by the militants in Mirzawalang in Sar-e Pul in northern Afghanistan. Locals say Taliban acted with Daesh, which the former group denies.

Afghan security forces leave after gunfire at the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan. July 31, 2017.
Afghan security forces leave after gunfire at the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan. July 31, 2017.

The Afghan Taliban released 235 hostages from a remote village in the province of Sar-e Pul in northern Afghanistan where it, alongside Daesh insurgents, reportedly massacred around 30 to 50 civilians. Other villagers are still being held, officials said on Tuesday.

"This evening 235 people, including women and children, were released from Mirzawalang as a result of mediation by the local elders and provincial officials," Zabihullah Amani, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said.

Locals reported seeing fighters carrying both the white banner of the Taliban and the black banner of Daesh.

"They (released hostages) have been safely evacuated to the eponymous provincial capital Sar-e Pul, but there are still an unknown number of people being kept hostage there," Amani said.

Scores held by insurgents

An Afghan security source said he thought there were still around 100 people being held hostage in Mirzawalang after the militants captured the village over the weekend.

Amani said that dozens of Taliban and Daesh fighters, under the command of a local Taliban commander whom he said pledged allegiance to Daesh, launched a coordinated attack in the area on Thursday.

They defeated the Afghan Local Police (ALP) after a 48-hour battle before massacring civilians, he claimed. The majority of those killed were Shia Muslims. Most were shot or beheaded, Amani said.

According to locals who arrived in the city of Sar-e Pul, a large insurgent force attacked the village where local informal militia forces had been inflicting heavy casualties on the Taliban for months.

Some 330 families had escaped the area after warnings from the Taliban but most of the civilians killed in the incident died while trying to leave.

"They (freed hostages) are so shocked they can't even speak to tell us about any other hostages," Mohammad Zaher Wahdat, the provincial governor, told Tolo News, an Afghanistan television news channel.

Afghan defence ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said that 34 civilians were known to have been killed.

Not in control

According to US military estimates, only 60 percent of the country is in government hands with the rest either controlled by the Taliban or left in a limbo outside of either insurgent or government control.

Local officials said the Mirzawalang attack, one of the most serious of its kind for some time, was carried out by Taliban and Daesh militants operating together.

The Taliban confirmed capturing Mirzawalang but said it did so alone. It has also denied killing civilians.

But any sign of the two groups joining forces would alarm Western governments that as insecurity rises in Afghanistan, the country could once again become a base for militant groups aiming to strike targets abroad.

Difficult to verify information

The discrepancy highlights the difficulty of verifying information from poor, mountainous areas of Afghanistan made inaccessible by fighting and with patchy communications.

Before confirmation of the release of hostages, Amani said that 150 families were being held while Waziri said "an unknown number of people" had been taken hostage.

"Since the villages are cut off, we can't confirm any new killings by the terrorists," Amani said.

The Taliban, fighting to install their interpretation of a strict Islamic law and drive foreign forces out of Afghanistan, fiercely opposed the local version of Daesh since its appearance in Afghanistan in 2015.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies