Taliban hang body in Afghan city square, as grip of hardline rule looms

The Taliban hung a dead body from a crane parked in a city square in Afghanistan on Saturday in a gruesome display that signalled the hardline movement's return to some of its brutal tactics of the past.

Display follows comments from founding Taliban member on return of executions

People look up at a dead body hung by the Taliban from a crane — not shown in this image — in the main square of the city of Herat, in western Afghanistan, on Saturday. (The Associated Press)

Warning: This story contains distressing details.

The Taliban hung a dead body from a crane parked in a city square in Afghanistan on Saturday in a gruesome display that signalled the hardline movement's return to some of its brutal tactics of the past.

Taliban officials initially brought four bodies to the central square in the western city of Herat, then moved three of them to other parts of the city for public display, said Wazir Ahmad Seddiqi, who runs a pharmacy on the edge of the square.

Taliban officials announced that the four were caught taking part in a kidnapping earlier Saturday and were killed by police, Seddiqi said.

Ziaulhaq Jalali, a Taliban-appointed district police chief in Herat, said later that Taliban members rescued a father and son who had been abducted by four kidnappers after an exchange of gunfire. He said a Taliban fighter and a civilian were wounded by the kidnappers and that the kidnappers were killed in the crossfire.

The Taliban swiftly grasped control of Afghanistan amid the withdrawal of U.S troops from the country last month. There are continuing signs the Taliban's hardline views and tactics are not a thing of the past. (West Asia News Agency/Reuters)

An Associated Press video showed crowds gathering around the crane and peering up at the body as some men chanted.

"The aim of this action is to alert all criminals that they are not safe," a Taliban commander who did not identify himself told the AP in an on-camera interview conducted in the square.

'Clear gross abuses of human rights'

Since the Taliban overran Kabul on Aug. 15 and seized control of the country, Afghans and the world have been watching to see whether they will recreate their harsh rule of the late 1990s, which included public stonings and limb amputations of alleged criminals, some of which took place in front of large crowds at a stadium.

After one of the Taliban's founders, Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, said in an interview with the AP this past week that the hardline movement would once again carry out executions and amputations of hands, the U.S. State Department said such acts "would constitute clear gross abuses of human rights." 

Workers print Taliban flags at a workshop in a Kabul market earlier this month. (Bernat Armangue/The Associated Press)

Zobair Deen, a former NATO adviser and political analyst, was not surprised to hear what the Taliban intended to do.

In a telephone interview with CBC News on Saturday, he said the Taliban use these "brutal sixth-century practices" because, as in the past, "they want to control the public."

But Deen said a younger generation of Afghans is more willing to resist that control — as evidenced by the women fighting to stand up for their rights.

A return to the past?

The Taliban's leaders remain entrenched in a deeply conservative, hardline worldview, even if they are embracing technological changes, such as video and mobile phones.

"Everyone criticized us for the punishments in the stadium, but we have never said anything about their laws and their punishments," Turabi said in the AP interview. "No one will tell us what our laws should be. We will follow Islam and we will make our laws on the Qur'an."

Taliban fighters ride in a boat Friday in the Qargha dam, on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan's capital. (Bernat Armangue/The Associated Press)

Deen said the "2.0 version" of the Taliban is no different than the pre-2001 regime, with many of the same players involved today.

Whatever the view in the West, Deen said the local view of people living in Afghanistan is that the Taliban have not changed.

He said a global effort is required to ensure the Taliban is held to account.

Also Saturday, a Taliban official said a roadside bomb hit a Taliban car in the capital of eastern Nangarhar province, wounding at least one person.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing. The Islamic State group affiliate, which is headquartered in eastern Afghanistan, has said it was behind similar attacks in Jalalabad last week that killed 12 people.

Taliban spokesperson Mohammad Hanif said the person wounded in the attack is a municipal worker.

With files from CBC News