The bodies of three foreign nationals who Afghan police said had been abducted and killed in Kabul were recovered on Thursday, in the latest incident targeting foreigners in the war-torn capital.
The killings come as the city has been rocked by an increasing number of attacks in recent months with both Islamic State and Taliban insurgents targeting security forces and government installations.
The victims—all working for French services giant Sodexo in Kabul—were from India, Macedonia and Malaysia, a spokesman for the interior ministry said. “At this stage we think it is a terrorist incident,” police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai told AFP.
Sodexo said it was “deeply saddened and shocked” by the deaths of its staff members. “On behalf of the Sodexo community, I want to say that our hearts are with their families, friends and colleagues,” said chief executive Denis Machuel.
India and Malaysia have both confirmed the deaths of their citizens and said they are seeking to repatriate their bodies, adding they were working with Afghan authorities. Raveesh Kumar, India’s foreign ministry spokesman, called the murders caused “deep anguish.”
No group has so far claimed responsibility for the killings.
The incident happened after the group left their office with a car and driver Thursday. Just over an hour later their bodies were found in what appeared to be a different car by authorities in the rural outskirts of Kabul.
“They had been shot inside the car,” said interior ministry official Bahar Mehr.
Another spokesman from the ministry said the car’s driver was being questioned by police and treated as a possible suspect. He added that all three had been handcuffed and shot, with two of the bodies later placed in the trunk of the car.
Kabul is plagued by criminal gangs who stage abductions for ransom, often targeting foreigners and wealthy locals, and sometimes hand them over to insurgent groups. Kidnapping of Afghans and foreigners is also common across Afghanistan where swathes of the country are infested with militant groups or criminal gangs.
Earlier this year six Indian engineers working in northern Afghanistan were abducted along with their driver. In August 2016, gunmen wearing military uniforms kidnapped two professors of the American University of Afghanistan in the heart of Kabul. The two, American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, appeared looking haggard in a Taliban hostage video, with the insurgents later adding that King was in poor health.
Afghan civilians have borne the brunt of the grinding conflict that began after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime. Militant attacks and suicide bombs were the leading causes of civilian deaths in the first half of 2018, a recent U.N. report showed.
A total of 1,692 civilians were killed, the highest number for the period since the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began keeping records in 2009. Another 3,430 were wounded, the report said.
While the Taliban is Afghanistan’s largest militant group and holds or contests more territory than any other insurgent outfit, I.S. has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to carry out devastating attacks in urban areas. The incident comes a day after more than 150 I.S. fighters surrendered in northern Afghanistan—in a move that Afghan security forces and the Taliban hailed as the end of the extremist group in the north of the country.