KABUL, Afghanistan — Two men convicted of killing more than 40 people in a February siege on a bank in the eastern city of Jalalabad were hanged in a prison Monday in rare executions ordered by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The hangings, which came as Karzai's government is in the midst of a faltering effort to negotiate with Taliban insurgents, were condemned in a statement from the Taliban, who vowed "to target all those individuals and government organizations involved in this case."
Karzai signed the death warrants Sunday amid intense public pressure after Afghanistan's highest court ruled last week that the two men — an Afghan and a Pakistani — should face the death penalty. The hangings were carried out secretly, unlike the Taliban, who often have staged public executions such as stonings and beheadings.
On Feb. 19, a group of suspected Taliban insurgents stormed a Kabul Bank branch in Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan's biggest city and the capital of the province that borders Pakistan. Equipped with guns and explosive vests, they killed more than 40 people, shooting many at point-blank range in a massacre that stunned even this war-weary nation. Dozens of others were wounded.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which was aimed at police officers who were collecting their salaries. Afghan security forces arrested two of the assailants.
Security camera footage from the bank showed one of the attackers, wearing a police uniform — a common tactic among Taliban insurgents — firing an automatic rifle indiscriminately inside the bank. Afghan security forces identified the man as Zar Ajam, a resident of the Waziristan region of Pakistan, and said he'd told police that he enjoyed killing people.
Another man, whom police identified as Mateollah, from Afghanistan's Kunar province, also was hanged Monday. A second Afghan, whom security officials named as Dad Mohammad, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The Afghan intelligence directorate confirmed the hangings in a statement.
Many Afghans complained about the delay in punishing the people responsible for the attack, but Faiz Ahmad Najeebi, the spokesman for the Justice Ministry, said the judicial process required time.
Some complained that the hangings weren't conducted in public, as many victims' families and Jalalabad residents had demanded.
"It was good they were hanged, but they should have been hanged publicly so that the entire world could watch them and to make them a lesson for others," said Mohammad Hassan, a resident of Jalalabad.
Hassan also complained that instead of a 20-year sentence, Dad Mohammed, who was thought to have sheltered the assailants in his home, should have received the death penalty.
The intelligence directorate said in a statement that the body of the Pakistani man would be given to Pakistani officials in Kabul and that of the Afghan man would be handed over to his family in Jalalabad.
Karzai's decision came amid an escalating war of words with his U.S. allies. The mercurial Afghan leader railed Saturday against American conduct of the war, saying that U.S.-led coalition forces must stop imprisoning Afghans and conducting night raids and house searches.
The American ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, followed the next day by criticizing Afghan leaders for what he termed "hurtful and inappropriate" comments that misrepresented the U.S. mission.
"When we hear ourselves being called occupiers and worse, our pride is offended and we begin to lose our inspiration to carry on," Eikenberry said.
(Shukoor is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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