ADRESKAN, Afghanistan – A tip from a shepherd led Afghan officials Thursday to what they say is the scene of a 1999 Taliban massacre of 72 people falsely accused of fanning a short-lived revolt in western Afghanistan.
The valley was scattered with skeletons and skulls, and the wrists of some of the remains were bound by green nylon rope. Bones, walking sticks, scraps of clothing, even an artificial leg can be seen half-buried in the mud.
Mousa Rezaie, a representative in Herat province of Hezb-e-Wahadat, a minority Shiite Muslim group that opposed the Taliban, said people living in the area had known about the killings of prisoners taken from the Adreskan jail in 1999, but did not know where their bodies could be found.
He said a shepherd provided information that led searchers Wednesday to a remote valley near Adreskan, about 75 miles south of Herat, the main city in the province of the same name.
About a dozen armed Hezb-e-Wahadat fighters stood guard as the remains were collected and placed in white shrouds. Rezaie said he would try to identify the dead by checking Taliban records, but that he expected most would be buried as ``unknown martyrs'' in a funeral Friday in Herat.
``We are searching for more,'' said Rezaie, explaining there were many reports of extrajudicial killings by the hard-line Taliban throughout Herat.
The Taliban were toppled in Herat and across Afghanistan last year as opposition forces took advantage of U.S. bombing launched because the Taliban were accused of harboring the main suspects in the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington.
Hoji Anwar Tavakolli, who was among the searchers Wednesday, said he had been held in the Adreskan prison for anti-Taliban activities when a group of 74 prisoners was brought in. He said they were deported from neighboring Iran, where many Afghans had gone to escape war and harsh economic conditions. They had the misfortune, he said, to have been sent back across the border during an uprising against the Taliban.
Two of the group, which included people from all over Afghanistan, were killed in the prison and the rest were taken away, Tavakolli said.
He said he was released soon afterward and heard from a local shepherd that the 72 people who had disappeared from the prison had been trucked in a group to a valley and killed. It was not clear how they died.
Tavakolli said he and others asked permission to recover the bodies and bury them, but Taliban officials responded: ``Leave them to the animals.''
Once the Taliban fell, Tavakolli said, he searched for and found the shepherd who had told him about the killings.