Afghan officials say foreign militants might be behind kidnapping a group of university students and teachers in central Afghanistan.
Ali Ahmadi, the deputy governor of Ghazni province, told Radio Free Afghanistan that students and teachers from the southern province of Kandahar were kidnapped on June 10.
Ahmadi said that the group was traveling by bus on the main Kandahar-Kabul highway, which runs through Ghazni. He said that local Afghan Taliban insurgents have denied any involvement in the incident.
"The Taliban in contact with our local peace council claim that they are not involved in this," he said. "So foreign militants might be involved in this incident," he added.
He said that the groups of masked gunmen abducted the group of more than 30 students and teachers on the morning of June 10 in Mullah Noor Baba area between Ghazni’s Andar and Qarabagh districts.
"We have recently spotted groups of foreign militants wearing black masks. They only speak foreign languages and do not speak Afghan languages, Dari and Pashto," he said. "They are definitely not Afghan. They might be Uzbeks, Arabs, Chechens or Pakistanis."
Ahmadi said intelligence reports from the province indicate that foreign militants now control the activities of Afghan Taliban and are leading operations to spread insecurity in pockets of Ghazni. "They might have kidnapped the students and teachers to defame the local Taliban," he speculated.
Meanwhile, Hazrat Mir Totakheil, the dean of Kandahar University, confirmed that around 35 students and teachers of his university have been abducted in Ghazni.
"The kidnappers have not contacted us. We don't know why they have kidnapped them and what their demands are," he told Radio Free Afghanistan. "I think that no one can have any problem with the students and teachers."
The incident comes only days before Afghanistan's second round of presidential elections on June 14.
The first round of elections was held on April 5 without any major security incident despite Taliban threats.
Ahmadi said that the inability of the local Taliban to disrupt the first round of elections has infuriated their leaders.
"Our intelligence reports say Pakistan based Taliban leaders have made foreign fighters in charge of operations inside Afghanistan." he said. "They are more violent and have even disarmed, detained and even killed some local Taliban."
Last week, Afghan officials in the remote eastern Afghan province of Nuristan reported that militants affiliated with Pakistan-based Lashkar-e Taiba militant group hanged at least 11 Taliban commanders.
Nuritan's governor, Hafez Abdul Qayyum told Radio Free Afghanistan that nearly 100 militants entered Kamdesh district and executed the Taliban commanders for failing to adequately disrupt the first round of the country's presidential election on April 5.