SHEBERGHAN, Afghanistan -- Officials in northern Afghanistan say they are working to put more than 250 surrendered Islamic State (IS) fighters on trial for grave human rights abuses.
Faqeer Mohammad Jawzjani, the police chief of northern Jawzjan Province, told Radio Free Afghanistan they are working with courts and the attorney general’s office to process the cases of IS fighters who allegedly committed grave human rights violations in the remote Jawzjan districts that they controlled for years.
“The law is the same for everyone,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “Everyone who has committed abuses will be dealt with in accordance with Afghan laws and the constitution.”
On August 1, two IS commanders led more than 250 IS fighters to surrender to the Afghan government to avoid capture by the Taliban. The surrender following days of intense fighting between Taliban and IS fighter in Jawzjan’s Darzab district, previously controlled by IS, according to the insurgents and Afghan officials.
Mawlawi Habiburrahman, the leader of the surrendered IS fighters, told Radio Free Afghanistan that they surrendered to the government as part of a peace deal under the ongoing reconciliation process.
“We want to end the war and return to a peaceful life,” he said. “We joined the government because we were invited under a peace deal.”
Habiburrahman, however, denied that IS fighters were engaged in large-scale atrocities including murder, rape, coercion, and forced displacement, as well as closing schools and imposing their own draconian rules on Darzab and other regions controlled by IS. The group is also accused of using child soldiers.
“People were obviously killed in the fighting. Our fighters were killed, and we killed our enemies,” he said. “But it is false to say we engaged in rape or executed innocent people.”
Afghan officials say hundreds of IS fighters were swiftly overpowered by more than 4,000 Taliban militants who initiated the conflict late on July 31.
"The evil phenomenon of Daesh has completely been eliminated and people have been freed from its torture in Jawzjan Province," Zabihullah Mujahid, a purported Taliban spokesman, said in an August 31 statement while referring to IS by its Arabic acronym.
Jawzjani says all the fighters who surrendered are Afghans who are now being investigated in the provincial capital, Sheberghan.
He says the foreign fighters believed to have been fighting for IS were either killed or have surrendered to the Taliban. The Taliban, however, have said nothing about foreign IS fighters.
“Our previous investigations show that many foreigners were fighting for IS,” he said. “But where are they now? Are they lost in the mountains, or have they surrendered to the Taliban?”
Activists in northern Afghanistan say they are watching whether Kabul brings the IS fighters to justice or paves way for their eventual release under an amnesty deal.
“We have repeatedly seen IS and Taliban fighters surrender to the authorities or run away whenever they are threatened with annihilation in a region,” activist Hamid Safoot told Radio Free Afghanistan. “We are gravely concerned that the IS fighters who surrendered after being defeated by the Taliban will return to their evil ways once the situation calms down.”
Jawzjani says they, too, are worried about the IS fighters returning to the battlefield. To prevent such an eventuality, he says, they are pushing for trying the surrendered fighters for past crimes.
Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on reporting by Mujibur Rahman Habibzai and Alem Rehmanyar from Sheberghan, Afghanistan.