KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban on Tuesday ambushed a series of buses and cars in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, forcing people out of the vehicles and abducting around 60 passengers, an Afghan official said.
The insurgents later said they released all but 27 of those abducted.
According to Mohammad Ismail, a district police chief in Helmand, the attack happened in Gareshk district. The Taliban forced the buses and cars to stop at gunpoint, he said, adding that it's not known where the Taliban took the abducted passengers.
The abductions come amid stepped-up Taliban attacks as part of their summer offensive. The insurgents frequently target buses carrying civil servants, or those perceived to be working for the Kabul government.
On Monday, a Taliban suicide bomber killed 14 Nepalese security guards in an attack on their minibus in the Afghan capital. And in late May, a suicide bomber struck a minibus carrying court employees during morning rush hour, also in Kabul, killing 11 people. The Taliban also claimed that attack.
In Tuesday's attack, Abdull Ghafoor Tokhi, the Helmand transportation director, said the Taliban "stopped couple of buses and around 15 other vehicles on the main highway and searched them all" — suggesting they were looking for someone or something specific and had enough time to go through all the vehicles.
Later Tuesday, Helmand police chief Gen. Aqa Noor Kentoz said Afghan security forces launched an operation to find the abducted passengers. He said it was too early to say how many government employees were among those travelling in the attacked buses and cars.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yusouf Ahmadi later in a message to the media confirmed the group was behind the assault and said the insurgents still hold 27 of the abducted but freed the others.
"We freed all but 27 ... there will be an investigation and we will find out if they are government employees and if so, they will be hand over to the Taliban judicial officials to decide on their fate," said Ahmadi.
Earlier this month, the Taliban killed 12 people they had captured, including policemen and soldiers, in eastern Ghazni province. Last month, Taliban-linked insurgents killed at least nine people after seizing passengers off buses in northern Kunduz province.
Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.