KABUL — The two Afghan security personnel were killed gangland-style. They were shot in the head, their stomachs were riddled with bullets and their bodies were dumped by the side of the road.
The grisly murders in Wardak, a province just west of Kabul that's largely dominated by the Taliban, offered a flash of insight into how the insurgents wield power in the parts of Afghanistan where they're strong, a picture that contradicts the pious image the militant Islamists try to project.
In fact, the killings of Nabiullah, a 29-year-old police colonel who'd been held for 10 weeks, and Junid Hejeran, a 26-year-old translator with U.S. special forces in southern Zabul province, who'd been held for days, violated a new set of ethical principles that Mullah Mohammad Omar, the top Taliban commander, issued last summer.
In mid-November, around the time of the killings, American and Afghan forces arrested a Sunni Muslim cleric known as Mullah Naqib, the local Taliban strongman, who allegedly held both men and ordered their executions, officials of both countries said.
In January, U.S. special forces and Afghan commandos arrested two more top Taliban officials in Wardak, Ahmad Jan, the Taliban military commander, and Ali Marjan, his religious adviser, both of whom are maulavi, Sunni religious scholars. Both also were directly involved in the murders of the two security personnel, according to the top Afghan civilian official in the province.
"Mullah Naqib is not the killer. The killer is Maulavi Ahmad Jan and Maulavi Ali Marjan," Wardak Gov. Halim Fidai told McClatchy. He alleged that Marjan had issued the fatwa, or religious ruling, giving the authority to kill the prisoners.
That would be a violation of Omar's code, which says that Taliban fighters who capture an enemy, whether local or foreigner, must turn him over to the provincial commander, who can free prisoners in an exchange but never for payment. Omar himself wields the power of life and death: "No one has the authority to execute the prisoners except Imam (Omar) and his deputy."
It wouldn't be the only violation, however, because two other Afghan security personnel held with Nabiullah — who like many Afghans went by only one name — reportedly were sold back to their families for ransoms.
Nor do such local Taliban leaders always pay heed to Shariah, Islamic law, although the group makes a point of sending in a judge wherever it holds a dominant position, to establish order under Shariah.
"We know that the Taliban are not that well organized," said the murdered Nabiullah's brother, Mohammad Taher. "They have no law. They are not following Shariah law." At the local level, "the commander is everything. He can do anything he wants to. He will not follow the rules of anyone."
Naqib's group "was involved in many killings, suicide attacks, roadside bombings and kidnappings," said Sayed Omar, a tribal elder in Maydan Shahr, the capital of Wardak. "He also acted like a judge and issued fatwas," said Omar, who met with the families of the two victims in November.
A spokesman for U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top NATO military commander in Afghanistan, said the International Security Assistance Force had no record of Naqib, Jan and Marjan being arrested or tried by American forces or put through ISAF detention processes. He said the International Committee of the Red Cross had been informed of their arrests, however, and that it was highly likely they were in Afghan prisons. He couldn't say whether they'd be charged with executing prisoners without due process.
The ICRC says it has access to detainees held by U.S. forces every six weeks, but committee officials wouldn't confirm knowledge of any of the three Taliban detainees.
While Western intelligence officials and Afghan experts describe a new generation of militarily skilled, computer-savvy, pro-education Taliban commanders, and captured Taliban claim that the movement is ready to break relations with al Qaida, in areas such as Wardak the Taliban resemble a criminal enterprise more than the vanguard of a state that follows Islamic principles.
Nabiullah, a trained lawyer, was on his way back to his job in Paktika province at the end of August when the Taliban attacked his convoy of security officials in the Sayed Abad district of Wardak.
Almost everyone else escaped, but Nabiullah had hidden under a bridge, where he was captured and taken to Mahroo, a village near Maydan Shahr, said his brother Taher, who's 38. For some 70 days, Nabiullah was held in a cave with two other men.
The Taliban called Taher twice, once to tell him that his brother had been captured, and the second time to say they wanted to exchange him for a Taliban prisoner. A week later, they went public with the demand.
With two men standing by with guns, Nabiullah appeared in a video recording on the Ariana television network with his identification card, pleading to be exchanged for a Taliban prisoner.
"Nabiullah was arrested by the Taliban of Wardak, and we will kill him," Taher quoted one of the captors as saying.
Although Taher, who's also a lawyer, works for the Ministry of the Interior in Kabul, the ministry gave him no support, he said, nor did Nabiullah's bosses in Paktika, where he'd served as the head of police logistics for the province.
The police chief told Taher, "Use your personal resources to free him," he said.
Taher had none, however, and 70 days after his brother was arrested, Taher got a phone call from a person in Jaghatu in Wardak province who said that a body had been left by the roadside with his telephone number on it.
Later, Taher heard from two men who'd been held with his brother — one of them an Afghan army officer, the other a driver for the army — who said that they'd been held in a cavity in a mountainside where goats and other animals were kept. The families of the two men had raised tens of thousands of dollars to ransom them, and they were freed a week before Nabiullah was killed, Taher said.
The former captives said that Naqib had held all three of them, and they described him as the Taliban commander in the area.
"They didn't ask for money from us. Their demand was to exchange him for a Taliban prisoner. They said it five times," Taher said. Nabiullah left a wife and three daughters.
Junid Hejeran was driving through Wardak to see his parents in Kabul when he was seized. Unlike with Taher, whose own police employment provided contacts and sources to piece together the story of his brother's death, it wasn't clear where Hejeran had been held or why his body was dumped at the same location as Nabiullah's.
According to his father, Haji Gul Rahman Rahmani, 50, Hejeran had been missing for 14 days when his father received a phone call to come to Jaghatu and pick up the corpse.
He'd been killed in much the same way that Nabiullah had. "They tied his hands. He had 50 bullets in him," Rahmani said.
(McClatchy special correspondent Nooruddin Bakhshi contributed to this article from Kabul.)
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