Taliban forces arrested and killed four men accused of kidnapping a shopkeeper and his son on September 25 in the western province of Herat. A few hours later, officials put their mutilated bodies on display, hanging them from cranes. Voices booming from loudspeakers invited locals to come see the “fate of criminals” under the new regime. Our Observer told us that many people, scarred by years of insecurity, actually supported this grisly operation.
Afghan media outlets reported that these four men kidnapped a shopkeeper and his son at around 9:45 am, taking the pair from in front of their shop in Khaja Kalleh square, one of the busiest areas in Herat. Just an hour later, the accused kidnappers were stopped at a Taliban checkpoint. They exchanged gunfire with the Taliban and were ultimately shot and killed by soldiers. One member of the Taliban security forces was injured in the incident, but the two hostages survived without injury.
While some Afghans condemned the violent killing of these men and the exhibition of their bodies, others approved of the measures.
Warning: Some people may find the images below distressing.
'People were taking selfies with the bodies'
Ata (not his real name) is a young man living in Herat:
I was out doing a few errands and I saw some lorries go by. I overheard someone in the convoy talking about 'criminals' and 'lessons' for the others. That’s when I saw bodies tied to the back of the lorries. I was in complete shock, it was the first time in my life I had ever seen a body. I’m young, so I don’t remember the last Taliban government in the 90s. It was like I was seeing with my own eyes what my parents had always told me about.
I went to Darb-e-Malek square, where one of the trucks had stopped. The arm of the crane was extended and hundreds of people had gathered and were chanting 'Allahu akbar'. There was a piece of paper on the body that said, in Dari and Pashtun, 'This is the punishment for someone who takes hostages'.
I also heard a message repeating from a loudspeaker: 'These are criminals killed in an exchange of gunfire with soldiers of the Emirate [Editor’s note: the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the official name for the country since the Taliban took power]. The soldiers liberated the hostages, who are safe and sound.' The body was left on display for several hours.
People were taking selfies with the bodies or taking videos or photos of the scene. I also took a video and shared it on social media. You know, people all over the world do that – they take videos of their daily life and share it. In Paris, people post videos of the Eiffel Tower or concerts or exhibitions. And, well, here, people of my age post scenes like this because it is part of our lives. That doesn’t mean that I support this kind of thing.
That said, I know a lot of people who detest the Taliban but can’t stand the insecurity here, so they do support how the Taliban deals with these criminals. When I showed my father the video, for example, he said, 'They deserved it,' even though my father hates the Taliban.
'Kidnapping is a full time job here'
There are streets in Herat where we don’t dare go after dark. And even if we’re driving, we go through these areas quickly, because there are people there who are dangerous and often armed.
Kidnapping is a full-time job here. Just last week, the Taliban freed a child from some captors. Assaults, muggings and carjackings are all commonplace here. Since the return of the Taliban, however, there’s been a significant drop in these violent crimes. You don’t hear about a violent incident taking place as often.
The reason is simple. Most of the police in Herat had been corrupted by criminals. And even the police who remained honest were afraid of the criminals. But the Taliban, for now at least, hasn’t been corrupted and I think that they want to show that they are protecting the population and, in that way, get people’s support. This is especially important in Herat where they aren’t popular at all.
I see intellectuals, journalists and activists criticizing the way these bodies have been put on display. I agree with them but I think for someone like my father, what is important is that he can run his business and live in safety and security.
The governor of Herat province, Mulawi Shir Ahmad Mujahid, told a local media outlet on September 25 that “the criminals had already been warned that they would be punished severely. We paraded their bodies to serve as an example to others”. The day prior, the director of prisons announced a return to laws that were in place in the 90s, including some punishments like amputations and executions.
In mid-August, the bodies of two men accused of kidnapping were displayed in the same manner along a road in Helmand province.