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Alleged Taliban Execution Shatters Image Of 'Taliban-Free' Province

A video grab shows a man pointing an AK47 rifle at a woman identified as 22-year-old Najiba, who is sitting near a ditch shortly before being executed by gunfire in Qol village, Parwan Province.
PARWAN, Afghanistan -- Just months ago, it was billed as "Taliban-free."

How, then, did Afghanistan's Parwan Province come to be the target of international condemnation over the public execution of a young woman for adultery?

The village of Qimchok, located in the province's remote Shinwari district just 100 kilometers from Kabul, today finds itself at the center of a large-scale manhunt. Reports from Parwan on July 9 say foreign troops and members of the Afghan National Army have entered Shinwari in a bid to apprehend militants involved in the killing.

Their arrival shatters any notion that Parwan Province's proximity to the Afghan capital translates into greater security. Global attention is now set squarely on the shocking video of the execution and news that the Taliban has established its own shadow government and laid down its own laws in several of the province's northern districts.

And whereas officials once spoke about relative tranquility in a province that is home to Bagram Air Base -- the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan -- observers find themselves drawing comparisons to public executions carried out during Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001.

Only in February, Parwan Governor Abdul Basir Salangi went so far as to declare the province "the backbone of security" in Afghanistan.

Recent Appearance?

Pressed on his previous claims regarding Parwan, Salangi on July 9 was quick to insist that the Taliban had only recently entered the province.

"The Taliban recently appeared in this area and the government had no other option than to launch a military campaign," Salangi said. "The Taliban would from time to time arrive and disrupt the roads in the Shinwari and Siagird districts. Eventually, the government launched an operation and set up checkpoints."

The governor says that operation was carried out "about a month ago," highlighting late May or early June on the calendar as a point of increased Taliban activity.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Salangi also shed light on the execution that was described on July 9 by Afghan President Hamid Karzai as a "heinous and unforgivable crime."

Contrary to widespread media reports, Salangi said the execution of the young woman took place three weeks ago, not last week.

Video of the execution, obtained by the Reuters news agency, shows a burqa-clad woman kneeling by a ditch before a crowd of onlookers. After a sentence is read out against her, a man with an assault rifle shoots her repeatedly at close range.

WATCH: This video of the extrajudicial killing was heavily edited by RFE/RL to remove its most graphic scenes:
Taliban Execution Of Woman Sparks Outrage
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Salangi says he does not know how the video was obtained initially by the government, but that Afghan authorities decided to release it on July 8.

According to Salangi, two Taliban commanders involved in the execution were sexually involved with the woman, either through rape or romantically. In order to save face, the two men, Mullah Azatullah and the other known only as "Qader,” held a makeshift trial and hastily executed her within a few hours to settle their dispute.

The Taliban has officially denied responsibility for the execution, but Salangi insists the men involved were members of that Islamist group. He believes the Taliban has denied responsibility because the actions of the two commanders contravenes Shari'a law, in which the defendant must always be tried in an Islamic court, or in this case in the presence of other Taliban members.

There are unconfirmed rumors that Mullah Azatullah and "Qader" were subsequently killed by Murza Khan, a Taliban commander in the same group.

Salangi believes Khan personally intervened after the execution and killed the two commanders for their disobedience.

"[The Taliban] is a criminal that is an enemy of Shari'a law," Salangi says. "In one hour they came to a decision and killed [the victim]. That's the reason why they didn't reveal their crimes. They didn't want it to [appear in] the media. Usually, even when a car crashes they take responsibility."

Written by Frud Bezhan, with additional reporting by Ahmad Hanayish
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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the editor for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.