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19 of 31 Shiites abducted in February freed

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Islamic StateNineteen of 31 Shiite Muslim men abducted in Afghanistan in February were freed on Monday, officials said, adding that the remaining abductees would also be released imminently.

Masked gunmen seized the minority ethnic Hazaras when they were travelling by bus through southern Afghanistan after returning from Iran.

“Nineteen Hazaras who were abducted in February were released today,” Zafar Sharif, a district governor in southeastern Ghazni province, told AFP without offering any more details.

Family members of two of the 19 men told AFP they received calls from officials in Ghazni confirming their release.

The men were reported by some Afghan media to have been freed in exchange for Uzbek militant fighters held in government prisons, but Afghan security officials declined to confirm the swap.

Government efforts to secure the release of the Hazaras has been shrouded in mystery as the Taliban, waging a 13-year insurgency in Afghanistan, distanced themselves from the incident.

The rare abduction of Hazaras sent shockwaves through the community, evoking memories of the Taliban’s rule from 1996 to 2001, when minorities were heavily persecuted.


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