Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Afghanistan’s capital on Wednesday with coffins carrying the bodies of seven ethnic Hazara demanding justice after their beheadings.
The protests included women and men from Afghanistan’s different ethnic groups – Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara – as they marched on the Presidential Palace to urge the government to take action against rising violence against Afghan civilians.
According to Afghan officials, the Hazara hostages were captured by ISIL fighters more than a month ago and held in Arghandab district of Zabul province.
|ISIL and the Taliban|
Four men, two women, and a child had been beheaded with razor wire, officials said. The Hazaras were abducted in Ghazni and their bodies were later found in Zabul province.
“We will continue to fight for the safety of our family,” civil rights activist Shahzaman Hashemi told Al Jazeera. “This is our right to feel safe. Whatever happened to those women and children can happen to us as well.”
The Afghan government announced a national day of mourning on Wednesday over the killings.
Maryam Jamal, who also took part in the march, said it was important to pressure the government to halt the escalating violence in the country. “They’ve now started killing women and children,” she said.
“It can be me tomorrow, can be my children. This protest is historic and we are adamant to not back off until something is done about this. We’ve had enough.”
Kabul Police Chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi told Al Jazeera security officers had taken control of the protest area and were making sure no one gets hurt during the demonstrations.
“There are thousands of people here and the number is expected to increase. People from far off places have come to Kabul to take part in the protest today,” Rahimi said. “We are making sure the protest doesn’t get violent. So far people are protesting peacefully.”
Demonstrators chanted “death to Islamic State” on Tuesday in Ghazni province as a van carried the coffins covered by Afghan flags. Ghazni police blamed the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Afghanistan for the grisly killings.
“We want justice not just for them but for the thousands of other innocent people who are brutally killed this way, almost every day,” protester Ismail Khanjar told Al Jazeera.
“We don’t care if they were Shia Muslims or not. For us they are human and they were killed in the most brutal way. What was their fault?”
The bodies were then transported from Ghazni city to Kabul, 130km away, for Wednesday’s demonstration.
The Hazara have long suffered oppression and persecution in Afghanistan. During the 1990s, thousands were killed by al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
Sayed Zafar Hashemi, deputy spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, told Al Jazeera security threats affect the entire nation, and not just specific communities.
“We are doing everything we can to help protect our people,” he said.
Afghanistan has several ethnic groups including Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and Turkmen – mainly in the north and west – as well as Pashtun, located primarily in the south and east.
ISIL emerged in Afghanistan last year.
A Taliban splinter group calling itself the High Council of Afghanistan Islamic Emirate announced last week it had elected its own leader, defying new Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor.
Insecurity continues to grip Afghanistan after the withdrawal of international forces in recent years. Violent clashes between two armed groups in southern Afghanistan erupted on Sunday, resulting in the death of at least 50 fighters from both sides.