Mass graves containing the bodies of more than 40 civilians allegedly massacred by Taliban and Islamic State insurgents were found on Tuesday after Afghan forces recaptured the village where they died, officials said.
In a rare joint operation by the rival militants, fighters killed dozens of men, women and children in Mirzawalang, a mainly Shia village in Sayad district of northern Sar-e-Pul province, on Aug. 5 after overrunning a government-backed militia, according to officials and residents.
“We have so far discovered three mass graves in the village, containing the remains of a total of 42 people, including three children, some of them beheaded,” said Zabihullah Amani, a spokesman for the provincial governor. He said that 23 bodies had been found in one grave, 11 in another and eight in a third.
“The majority have been identified as civilians, while there might be a small number of uprising forces too among them. Search operations will continue tomorrow,” Amani added.
The discovery came after a spokesman for the Afghan National Army’s northern military corps said troops had retaken the village following several days of intense fighting that left at least 50 insurgents dead. “Our forces are in full control of the village and are searching for Taliban mines and booby traps,” said Nasratullah Jamshidi.
Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for the Afghan defense ministry, said forces had “pushed the Taliban out of the village” on Monday afternoon. He told AFP that militants had suffered “heavy casualties.” There has been no word on any casualties to Afghan forces.
Survivors fleeing the violence described nightmarish scenes of militants going from house to house, gunning down local people. The insurgents also took a number of residents captive, but later released 235 hostages after elders and provincial officials struck a deal with the group.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for killing 54 Shia Muslims in Sar-e-Pul in a statement released by its propaganda outlet Amaq late Monday.
The Taliban earlier claimed capturing the village but said it did so alone. It also denied allegations it had killed civilians.
Taliban and I.S. fighters have regularly clashed since the latter gained a foothold in the country in 2015 but security sources say they have teamed up to attack Afghan forces on a few occasions.
I.S. has carried out a number of deadly attacks on Shia Muslims in the past year, providing a sectarian twist to the Afghan conflict. This month two suicide bombers killed more than 33 worshippers at a mosque in Afghanistan’s western city of Herat, in an attack claimed by the group.