Protests raged across Afghanistan after seven people, including a 9-year-old girl, were beheaded by militants who claimed to have ties to ISIS in the southern province of Zabul. The massive demonstrations marked a display of unity since those killed were Hazara, a primarily Shia ethnic minority that has long been targeted for attacks by Islamist militant groups in the region.
“We are showing the enemies of Afghanistan that you cannot divide us by ethnicity, tribe, region and sect,” Dadullah Babrak, a protest organizer, told the Washington Post as protesters chanted: “We Tajiks, we Pashtuns and we Hazaras are all united.”
Family members of the seven victims defied Islamic custom that calls for the dead to be buried as soon as possible. In protest, they refused to bury the bodies of their loved ones and took them to Kabul where an estimated 10,000 joined them in one of the largest demonstrations the Afghan capital has seen in years. Some even attempted to scale the walls of the presidential compound.
The protesters spared no one from their fury, with chants of “Death to the Taliban” and “Death to [ISIS].” They also decried the Afghan government and Western forces for failing to adequately protect them from such attacks.
Provincial officials blamed the killing on militants affiliated with the Islamic State, a group which has been gaining power across Afghanistan and battling with Taliban. The country’s main intelligence agency, however, rejected the report as Taliban “propaganda.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani vowed revenge for the killings in a televised statement on Wednesday.
Afghan security forces freed eight Hazara who were a part of a group of 31 kidnapped from a bus in April. The brutal beheading of seven Hazara people comes after the Taliban’s resurgence in the northern city of Kunduz.