Afghanistan: ‘If he is aware of our complaints, he will find us and kill us’, say witnesses

The Independent

Proper procedure would have been to detain and question the family he suspected of hosting Taliban insurgents but Azizullah did things differently, opening fire on their house with his men. Then they locked the survivors inside. And then they set the place ablaze.

This story is one of many separate alleged instances reported by interviewees during an investigation by The Independent lasting several months. Three separate reports, including two by the UN from early 2010, confirmed many of The Independent’s findings, and documented their own, separate allegations of atrocities.

Most interviewees were so terrified of speaking out that they asked not to be identified. “If he is aware of our complaints, he will find and kill us. No one says anything,” one man explained. “He arrests innocent people and beats them, tortures them, imprisons them. There are many examples.”

Several sources claimed that the stocky warlord ordered the summary execution of two men, Ahmad Gul and Mir Nawab – whom Azizullah accused of complicity in a Taliban ambush, but whom, according to a local community leader, witnesses placed in an entirely different area at the time.

Several sources also implicated Azizullah in the murder of three men, who had said they were shepherds and had followed their sheep on to a hill under Taliban control.

In a third separate incident, venerable community leaders said that Azizullah was involved in the killings of two villagers inside their home in April 2009 because they were allegedly involved in an ambush on a convoy of supply trucks that Azizullah and his men were escorting. “My understanding was that they were nothing to do with the Taliban,” the community leader said.

“He also does immoral things with young boys,” an Afghan man from the area alleged. “Everyone says that he is worse than the Taliban.” The UN report corroborated the claim, stating that after Azizullah arrested a 16-year old boy, he detained him for 25 days, “during which Azizullah sexually abused him. Some weeks later, Azizullah returned and arrested the father, who was later released following pressure by tribal elders. Another son from the same family was then also detained and forced to place his hands on an IED to leave his fingerprints” on it – in an apparent attempt to frame him as an insurgent.

The Independent also heard claims that Azizullah mutilated the corpses of Taliban fighters and civilians, which were corroborated by one of the leaked UN reports. In the case of Ahmad Gul, UN officials wrote that after murdering the villagers, “Azizullah then strapped their bodies to the hood of the vehicles and drove through the Margha Mandi bazaar, announcing that they were terrorists. The bodies were kept for eight days until they started to rot, at which point they were returned to their families.”

In perhaps the most harrowing alleged atrocity, the UN report claims: “In January or February 2009 [Azizullah and his men] came in helicopters during the night and searched approximately five to eight houses based on what was reportedly false information. Commander Azizullah along with his men arrested nine innocent people including three children aged between six to 10 years from these houses and tied their hands up. All of them were killed.”

In another incident, a well-connected Pashtun man from the region said that he had heard claims from witnesses that Azizullah captured nine insurgents. “The way he killed them was awful,” he said. “He tied them up and tied them to the back of the cars and they were driven to Urgun [district] over rocks, dragging them behind the cars. They were killed.” This allegedly took place in the summer of 2010.

In Pirkoti village in south-eastern Afghanistan, an interviewee claimed, Azizullah “went looking for a local [Taliban] commander but was unable to find him. So he called the one of the villagers to the mosque, where he beat and abused him and forced him to broadcast a message on the loudspeaker to the Taliban… Of course people turn towards the Taliban if he acts like this.” The timing of this incident was November 2010.

A report compiled for a reconstruction firm operating in south-eastern Afghanistan found that: “People in Pirkoti have joined [the] Taliban because of Azizullah’s atrocities. Azizullah’s militia has been resorting to disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force – which has infuriated them to the level of shifting loyalty.”

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