Afghanistan hanged six prisoners convicted of terrorism offences, as part of a tougher new policy towards the Taliban promised by President Ashraf Ghani in retaliation for last month's suicide attack which killed at least 64 people in Kabul.
The death sentences, carried out at the Pule Charkhi prison on the outskirts of Kabul on Sunday, drew an immediate response from the Taliban which said the departments of state involved in the executions would be treated as "military targets" and threatened a wave of suicide attacks.
"To gain revenge on the enemy, we have thousands of fighters ready to sacrifice themselves," a statement from the movement's main spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
With fiercer fighting expected in the coming weeks following the conclusion of the annual opium harvest, the decision to execute the prisoners further dims hopes of reviving the stalled peace process backed by foreign partners including the United States and China.
A statement from Ghani's office said the executions had been carried out after a fair and transparent legal process and in accordance with both the constitution and Islamic law.
"Considering repeated pleas from the families of victims of terrorist attacks, President Ghani signed off on death penalties for six who committed major crimes, crimes against civilians and public security," the statement said.
A separate statement from the National Directorate for Security, Afghanistan's main intelligence agency, gave the identities of the six condemned men and detailed the attacks for which they were convicted.
These ranged from a Taliban intelligence official in Kandahar convicted of helping to organize the 2011 murder of Burhanuddin Rabbani, former head of the High Peace Council to a member of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network who organised suicide bombings in Kabul.
There was no indication of any direct link between the crimes and the April 19 attack in Kabul, which killed at least 64 people and wounded 347 others.
Even before the executions, the Taliban had threatened "serious repercussions" if Ghani's threat to approve death sentences were carried out, saying judicial institutions and individuals connected with the decision would be considered legitimate military targets.
It also said that foreign nationals and Afghan soldiers held as prisoners by the Taliban would be in danger.
The Taliban, which controls more territory in Afghanistan than at any time since it was driven from power by U.S.-led forces in 2001, has pledged to step up its campaign against the Western-backed government in Kabul this year.
Last month, it launched its spring offensive with a concerted attack on Kunduz, the northern city its forces captured briefly last year, as well as the biggest single suicide attack in Kabul since 2011.
Source: Reuters, May 8, 2016