|GENOCIDE IN AFGHANISTAN
The first detailed eyewitness accounts of the massacre of up to 8,000
people by Islamic fundamentalist Taliban fighters who ran amok in the northern
Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif last August have been passed to western governments.
Testimony compiled by international observers and handed to western
diplomats in Pakistan reveals that hundreds of people were packed into
containers where they suffocated when the doors were locked in the searing
midday heat. Men, women and children were shot in their homes and on the
street, and hospital patients were murdered in their beds.
The massacre occurred when, during an offensive aimed at seizing full
control of Afghanistan for the first time, Mazar-e-Sharif was overrun by
the Taliban, who have imposed the world's most extreme interpretation of
Islam, barring women from education, banning television and forcing men
to wear beards.
Statements made available to The Sunday Times describe a campaign of
slaughter directed against a Shia Muslim minority, the Hazara. The evidence,
regarded by experienced aid officials as "highly credible", paints
a ghastly picture of butchery and rape as the Taliban shot and cut the
throats of Hazaras.
The claims are supported by the influential American group Human Rights
Watch, which is due to reveal its own findings on the massacre today and
will call on the United Nations to investigate what it describes as "one
of the single worst examples of killings of civilians in Afghanistan's
The detailed evidence of Taliban atrocities will embarrass western policymakers
who still see the fundamentalists as useful players in a modern "great
game" to keep Iranian and Russian influence out of Afghanistan and
so ensure that the huge oil and gas riches of central Asia remain a prize
for western multinationals.
Ten diplomats from Tehran were among those who died, prompting Iran
to mass 200,000 troops on its border with Afghanistan to bolster demands
for the killers to be handed over for trial. Troop "manoeuvres"
were due to begin yesterday.
Based on eyewitness statements, The Sunday Times has pieced together
an account of the nightmare that engulfed Mazar-e-Sharif when the Taliban
entered the city from the west on the morning of August 8. They were intent
on avenging a massacre of some 2,000 of their own men in 1997, when the
Hazaras and other fighters turned against them.
There ensued what one witness called "a frenzy" of vengeance
killing. The Taliban fighters swept through the city, firing heavy machineguns
mounted on pickup trucks. One man described how the streets were covered
with bodies and blood. The Taliban, he said, forbade anyone to bury the
corpses for six days.
On the second day, according to numerous witnesses, the Taliban began
a house-to-house search for Hazara men. Hazaras, descended from Mongols,
are easy to recognise by their distinctive Asiatic features compared with
the ethnic Pashtuns who make up the ranks of the Taliban. They share their
Shia faith with Iran, while the Taliban are Sunni Muslims.
A witness whose testimony is described as "extremely reliable"
by aid officials said most of the victims had been shot in the head, the
chest and the testicles. Others had been slaughtered in what he called
"the halal way" - by having their throats slit.
One housewife, who has since fled to Pakistan, said the Taliban entered
her house and shot her husband and her two brothers dead. Then they cut
the men's throats in front of the woman and her children.
Another piece of testimony explained why one Taliban was "very
worried he might be excluded from heaven". He had personally shot
people in nearly 30 houses, opting to kill them as soon as they opened
the door. After killing the men in two homes, he learnt that they were
not Hazara but Pashtun. "That he had killed people in 28 Hazara households
seemed not to cause him any concern at all," the witness said.
Men not murdered on the spot were "stuffed into containers after
being badly beaten", said another witness. He saw the doors opened
on a container after all the men inside had died from suffocation.
He also testified that some containers were filled with children who
were taken to an unknown destination after their parents had been killed.
Human Rights Watch has obtained gruesome confirmation of the Taliban's
penchant for death by container. It quotes a man who was detained by the
militia and saw container trucks filled with victims leaving the Mazar-e-Sharif
jail several times every day.
Once he watched as the Taliban opened the container doors to find three
prisoners alive and about 300 dead. The Taliban drove the trucks to a desert
site known as Dasht-e-Leili and ordered porters to dump the cargo of corpses
in the sands.
The Human Rights Watch report and other statements identify three Taliban
leaders who appear to be guilty of incitement to kill victims purely because
of their ethnic origin. They are:
Mullah Manon Niazi, the new Taliban governor of Mazar-e-Sharif. Numerous
witnesses heard him make speeches at mosques and on radio inciting hatred
of Hazaras. "Wherever you go we will catch you," he said. "If
you go up, we will pull you down by your feet; if you hide below we will
pull you up by your hair." One witness testified that Niazi personally
selected prisoners to be consigned to the death containers.
Mullah Musa, the so-called director of public health. A witness said
Musa toured a public hospital looking for Hazara patients to mark out for
death. Later that day, the witness heard from a doctor that Musa had taken
a group of gunmen to the army hospital, where they had murdered all 20
or so patients, and relatives who had been visiting them.
Maulawi Mohammed Hanif, a Taliban commander who announced to a crowd
of 300 people summoned to a mosque that the policy of the Taliban was to
"exterminate" the Hazaras.
International aid workers fear the killings are continuing following
the recent fall of the central Afghan town of Bamiyan. They have said thousands
of people remain unaccounted for.