Dozens of people were taken hostage by Taliban militants after their vehicles were stopped in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province on Tuesday, an official said.
One bus and three other vehicles were stopped in Muhajir bazaar in Gereshk district, said Mohammad Ismail Ekhpelwak, the district police chief.
"The Taliban initially took 48 passengers. Thirty were freed and 18 are still in their custody," said Ekhpelwak.
Amar Zwak, the Helmand governor's spokesman, provided a different number, saying 25 people were still in Taliban custody.
Earlier, Mullah Abdul Qadir, the district’s head of intelligence, had said that five vehicles in total were stopped.
An operation has been launched in the area to free the captives, Zwak said.
Taliban militants claimed responsibility for the abduction, saying in a statement that “27 suspected individuals were taken out for investigation,” noting that they came “from three vehicles.”
The Taliban said they would hand over “individuals with ties to Kabul’s puppet government” to the Taliban’s court.
The Taliban have increasingly taken travellers hostage in recent months as a way to intimidate the government, security forces and employees of international organizations.
In two separate incidents in northern Kunduz province in late May and early June, Taliban militants stopped several vehicles and took hostages, killing 12 of them. At least eight people are still in captivity.
In a separate incident in central Ghazni province in early June, 12 Afghan security force members were abducted by Taliban militants and were killed shortly afterwards.