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60 people abducted after Taliban ambushes buses in Afghanistan

The Taliban has abducted around 60 people after ambushing a series of buses and cars in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province.

The insurgents later said they released all but 27 of those abducted.

Police in Helmand said the attack happened in Gareshk district. The Taliban forced the buses and cars to stop at gunpoint. It is not known where the Taliban took the abducted passengers.

The abductions come amid increased Taliban attacks as part of their summer offensive. The insurgents frequently target buses carrying civil servants or those perceived to be working for the Kabul government.

On Monday, a Taliban suicide bomber killed 14 Nepalese security guards in an attack on their minibus in the Afghan capital. And in late May, a suicide bomber struck a minibus carrying court employees during the morning rush hour, also in Kabul, killing 11 people. The Taliban also claimed that attack.

In Tuesday's attack, Abdull Ghafoor Tokhi, the Helmand transportation director, said the Taliban "stopped a couple of buses and around 15 other vehicles on the main highway and searched them all" - suggesting they were looking for someone or something specific and had enough time to go through all the vehicles.

Later on Tuesday, Helmand police chief General Aqa Noor Kentoz said Afghan security forces launched an operation to find the abducted passengers. He said it was too early to say how many government employees were among those travelling in the attacked buses and cars.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yusouf Ahmadi confirmed the group was behind the assault and said the insurgents still hold 27 of the abducted people but freed the others.

He said: "We freed all but 27 ... there will be an investigation and we will find out if they are government employees and if so, they will be handed over to the Taliban judicial officials to decide on their fate."

Earlier this month, the Taliban killed 12 people they had captured, including policemen and soldiers, in eastern Ghazni province. Last month, Taliban-linked insurgents killed at least nine people after seizing passengers off buses in the northern Kunduz province.

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