Taliban Tortured, Killed Ethnic Minorities, Report Says, Prompting Fears of Old Regime

Reports of the Taliban torturing and killing ethnic minorities in Afghanistan were released Friday by Amnesty International, prompting fears that the group's former regime will be restored, the Associated Press reported.

The Taliban say they have become more moderate since they last ruled, in the 1990s, but many have doubts. The reports said that Amnesty International spoke with eyewitnesses in Ghazni who told them the Taliban killed nine ethnic Hazara men in Mundarakht in July. They said six men were shot, and three were tortured to death. In the past few years, Hazaras have been making immense progress in education and social status in Afghanistan.

The violence was "a reminder of the Taliban's past record and a horrifying indicator of what Taliban rule may bring," said the head of Amnesty International, Agnes Callamard.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Taliban Tortures, Kills Ethnic Minorities
Reports of targeted killings in areas overrun by the Taliban have fueled fears that they will return Afghanistan to the repressive rule they imposed when they were last in power. Above, an imam speaks next to an armed Taliban fighter during Friday prayers at the Abdul Rahman Mosque in Kabul on Friday. Hoshang Hashimi/Getty Images

Terrified that the new de facto rulers would commit such abuses, thousands have raced to Kabul's airport and to border crossings, desperate to flee following the Taliban's stunning blitz through the country. Others have taken to the streets to protest the takeover, acts of defiance that Taliban fighters have violently suppressed.

Ahead of Friday prayers, leaders urged imams to use sermons to appeal for unity and urge people not to flee the country.

But many Afghans are skeptical, fearing that the Taliban will erase the gains, especially for women, achieved in the past two decades. Amnesty International's report provided more evidence Friday that undercut the Taliban's claims they have changed.

The rights group warned that many more killings may have gone unreported because the Taliban cut cellphone services in many areas they've captured to prevent images from being published.

Separately, Reporters Without Borders expressed alarm at the news that Taliban fighters killed the family member of an Afghan journalist working for Germany's Deutsche Welle on Wednesday.

The broadcaster said fighters conducted house-to-house searches for their reporter, who had already relocated to Germany. It said the Taliban also raided the homes of at least three of its journalists.

"Sadly, this confirms our worst fears," said Katja Gloger of Reporters Without Borders' German section. "The brutal action of the Taliban show that the lives of independent media workers in Afghanistan are in acute danger."

Meanwhile, a Norway-based private intelligence group that provides information to the U.N. said it obtained evidence that the Taliban have rounded up Afghans on a blacklist of people they believe worked in key roles with the previous Afghan administration or with U.S.-led forces.

In an email, the executive director of RHIPTO Norwegian Center for Global Analyses said the organization knew about several threat letters sent to Afghans, including a man who was taken from his Kabul apartment this week by the Taliban.

"We had access to hard copies of concrete letters issued and stamped by the Taliban Military Commission to this effect," said Christian Nellemann. A report from the group that was obtained by the AP included a copy of one of the letters.

The AP could not independently verify the claims made by the group.

Under the Taliban's previous rule, women were largely confined to their homes, television and music were banned, and public executions were held regularly. Fearing a return to those days, thousands have tried to flee the country, braving checkpoints manned by Taliban fighters to rush to Kabul's airport, where a chaotic evacuation is underway.

Mohammad Naim, who has been among the crowd at the airport for four days trying to escape, said he had to put his children on the roof of a car on the first day to save them from being crushed by the mass of people. He saw other children killed who were unable to get out of the way.

Naim, who said he had been an interpreter for U.S. forces, urged others not to come to the airport.

"It is a very, very crazy situation right now," he said.

The United States is struggling to pick up the pace of evacuations it is running from Afghanistan, where thousands of Americans and their Afghan allies may be in need of escape. European countries are also working to bring their citizens and those who have worked with them out.

But Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles said Friday that its military transport planes are leaving Kabul partly empty in the tumult.

"Nobody's in control of the situation," Robles told Spanish public radio broadcaster RNE.

Getting to the facility is also a major challenge. Germany was sending two helicopters to Kabul to help bring small numbers of people from elsewhere in the city to the airport, officials said.

As concerns mount about what a Taliban government will look like, the group's leaders are meeting with some officials from previous Afghan administrations.

An Afghan official familiar with those talks indicated nothing would come of them before the last U.S. troops leave, currently planned for August 31.

The Taliban's lead negotiator, Anas Haqqani, has said the group agreed with the U.S. to "do nothing" until after that date, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give information to the media. The Taliban have said they want an inclusive government, but, as with their other promises, it was not clear if they would make good on that.

In addition to concerns about Taliban abuses, officials have warned that Afghanistan's already weakened economy could crumble further without the massive international aid that sustained the toppled Western-backed government. The U.N. said there were dire food shortages and experts said the country was severely in need of cash.

Underscoring the difficulties the Taliban will face in returning the country to normal life, trader Aminullah Amin said Friday that the market used by many in the capital to exchange money was closed and would stay that way for the time being.

There was just too much uncertainty surrounding exchange rates, how the Taliban might regulate the market, and the possibility of looting, he said.

Taliban Tortures, Kills Ethnic Minorities
Taliban fighters pose in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday. The Taliban celebrated Afghanistan's Independence Day by declaring they had defeated the United States in its 20-year war. Rahmat Gul/Associated Press