Afghan officials hanged six Taliban prisoners Sunday, a resumption of executions in the war that makes good on President Ashraf Ghani’s recent promise to deal harshly with insurgents now that hopes for peace negotiations have evaporated.
The six prisoners were hanged in the morning inside the Pul-i-Charkhi prison — a detention facility on the outskirts of Kabul that is notorious among Afghans as the site of massive executions by the country’s then-communist regime during the 1980s.
Among the inmates were two Taliban members who helped assassinate two senior government officials in recent years, officials said.
One prisoner facilitated a 2011 suicide bomb attack on Burhanuddin Rabbani, who served as temporary president in Afghanistan after U.S. forces toppled the Taliban government 10 years earlier.
The second Taliban member was involved in the 2009 suicide bomb assassination of Abdullah Laghmani, the deputy chief of the country’s National Directorate of Security.
Ghani administration officials did not provide details about the other prisoners. But the Pul-i-Charkhi prison is where Anas Haqqani, son of Haqqani network founder Jalaluddin Haqqani, has been held since 2014.
Government officials said all of the executed prisoners had been found guilty of crimes against “civilian national security.”
Ghani signed the order of execution in response to “repeated demands of the families of victims of terrorist attacks,” palace officials said in a statement.
The hangings come amid increasing concerns over security in Afghanistan. Taliban forces, aided by the increasingly influential Haqqani network, have vowed widespread attacks across Afghanistan on the heels of a robust spring poppy harvest — a main source of income for the terrorist group.
Government officials, hopeful that the Taliban would enter into peace negotiations, had stopped executing captured prisoners during President Hamid Karzai’s administration.
But in the wake of a suicide bomb attack in Kabul last month that killed 64 people and wounded about 350, Ghani now says he is no longer interested in negotiating with Taliban leaders.
Taliban leaders have recently warned that it will respond to executions by killing government prisoners in their captivity. On Sunday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the group has yet to decide how to respond to the recent hangings.
“Our leadership council will come up with reaction on this later,” he said matter-of-factly.
On a day after two Romanian soldiers were killed during an apparent insider attack in southern Afghanistan while training Afghan security forces, news of the hangings drew praise in Kabul.
“Justice and security are tied together,” said political analyst Javed Kohistani, a retired Afghan general.
“The Taliban and other terrorists thought in the past that if they are arrested they can buy their way out by money or other means,” he said. “Now with the executions, they will feel fear in their hearts that they will face justice and cannot be spared.”
NATO officials said they’re still investigating whether the Taliban is behind the deaths of the Romanian soldiers in Kandahar province.
Army Brig. Gen. Charles H. Cleveland, spokesman for the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan, said the Romanians were assisting with hands-on training “when some of those they were training apparently fired on them.”
Other NATO soldiers killed the two attackers, he said.
“As for what comes next, the details are still to be determined but at a minimum, we will continue our efforts to partner with the Afghans to provide training, advise, and assist efforts,” Cleveland said.
A Kandahar police official said the shooting occurred after an argument erupted between the Romanians and the Afghan trainees, before one police officer who has been with the department for several years drew his gun and began firing.
“The cause of the incident is fully not clear,” said Zia Durrani, the police official.