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Purported Survivor Recounts Horror Of Afghan Bus Ambush

Nearly a week after an ambush on a bus en route from the southern city of Kandahar to the western city of Herat, Taliban militants have claimed responsibility for killing 27 passengers that they claim were Afghan National Army soldiers. The grisly attack is a reminder that security remains elusive on some of the country's main traffic arteries, particularly in the volatile south. Ilyas Dayee of RFE/RL's Afghan Service spoke to a purported survivor of the ambush, a man in his 20's who wished to be identified only as Bashar, as he recovered from a gunshot wound in a hospital in the southwestern Helmand Province. He talked about the gruesome attack and his harrowing escape.

Can you explain the events leading up to the ambush?

Bashar: We were coming from Laghman Province [in eastern Afghanistan]. On the way from Kandahar, there was a roadblock where our bus stopped for a while before moving on. When we reached the area between the [mobile phone tower] and the village of Waziri [northwest of Kandahar], Taliban fighters came and ordered us to leave the bus. They escorted us down to the village and accused us of being Afghan National Army soldiers. We told them we were not soldiers and that we were going to Iran. We told them, "If you can prove your claim, then you are right." They detained us for three nights. They hit and tortured the men over the course of three nights but found no evidence that we were soldiers. Then they said that we were [a local] governor's men. They questioned us but, again, they found no evidence. Then they divided us into groups -- five people in each group. We weren't aware of what was happening to the other groups, as the Taliban were taking the groups separately and shooting them.

The guys had no link to [that] governor or any other. These people were on their way to Iran to join their relatives who work there; they were going to find jobs in Iran. They didn't belong to any political group. We told the Taliban to check their information before [making any decisions about our fates], but the Taliban wouldn't listen. The Taliban fighters have their own laws. They attack and abuse ordinary people because the government officials are out of their reach. They snatch passengers and imprison them in some containers in nearby villages.

RFE/RL: What about the men you were traveling with?

Bashar: There were 24 of us traveling from Laghman to Iran. There were also two other people on the bus, and the Taliban got them, too. I don't know where the two other men came from or what happened to them. [Editor's note: A Taliban spokesman and multiple media reports have suggested that 27 passengers were killed, rather than the 26 that Bashar cites.]

RFE/RL: You said the Taliban divided you into groups of five. What happened to the other four men who were together with you?

Bashar: The Taliban shot the men after sunset, around 7:00 p.m. They tied our hands behind our backs. When they began firing at us, I ran. The four men [with me] were killed, and I escaped with a gunshot to my leg. I don't know about the other groups, as the Taliban were killing them separately.

RFE/RL: And how did you manage to escape?

Bashar: I ran and hid someplace. When God Almighty wants to rescue a person, he can rescue them anywhere, under any circumstances. The Taliban were in three cars and a minibus. They had 10-15 rifles with one heavy machine gun, one rocket-propelled grenade, and many other different weapons.

RFE/RL: Does your family know you are here?

Bashar: Yes, they know that I am in hospital.

Translated by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan