Kandahar, Nov 22: Afghan Taliban militants on Saturday kidnapped at least seven members of the minority Shiite Hazara community after a dispute over sheep, local authorities said.
Gunmen stopped three buses at dawn between Shah Joy and Qalat in the volatile Zabul province, first taking 17 hostages before releasing nine, local leader Wazir Mohammed Jawadi said.
Jawadi said the gunmen kept eight hostages, all from the Hazara ethnic group, Shiites who are known for their striking Central Asian features.
The local chief of police Mirwais Noorzai said that "seven Hazaras are being held hostage".
He said local Taliban leader Mullah Taqwa had ordered the kidnappings because Hazaras allegedly "stole sheep", adding that Taqwa would release the hostages "if the Hazaras give him back his sheep".
A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, told AFP that the group would "investigate" the incident.
Zabul province is under the control of the mainly Sunni Taliban and has been the scene of clashes between rival Taliban factions.
The three million-strong Afghan Hazara community has been persecuted for decades, with thousands killed in the late 1990s by Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
In February, 31 people, mostly Hazara, were abducted in the region by fighters linked to the Islamic State group, which has been trying to gain a foothold in Afghanistan.
A week ago thousands of people attended the burials of seven Hazaras after their decapitated bodies were found in Zabul.
The victims were kidnapped in neighbouring Jaghuri by unknown gunmen in October.