Taliban claims to have kidnapped 50 Afghan police

The Taliban claimed on Sunday that it kidnapped 50 Afghan policemen in northeastern Afghanistan - part of the insurgents' murder and intimidation campaign against anyone affiliated with the US-backed government.

Also Sunday, a Nato service member was killed in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan, the coalition said. No details were released about the death, which raised to 94 the number of international troops killed in Afghanistan so far this year.

Militants ambushed the policemen Saturday afternoon after being tipped off that they would be traveling in Kunar province, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in an emailed statement to reporters. The policemen from Nuristan province had just finished their training to join the Afghan National Police, he said.

Kunar provincial police chief Gen. Khalilullah Ziayi confirmed that militants stopped four vehicles in Chapa Dara district and captured several dozen men. He did not know the exact number and said it was unclear whether all were members of the Afghan National Police or prospective recruits.

In the past, the Taliban have apprehended other policemen in Nuristan and other parts of the country, but then released them if they promised not to work with the police or the Afghan government, Mujahid said. This time, top Taliban military commanders in eastern Afghanistan will decide the policemen's fate after assessing the situation on the ground, he said.

At a news conference in the capital, Lutfullah Mashal, a spokesman for the Afghan intelligence service in Kabul, said security officials have arrested seven militants who were planning to conduct attacks last Monday in conjunction with Afghan new year's celebrations. He said all seven of the militants, including three teenagers suspected of being would-be suicide bombers, are linked with the Haqqani network, which is affiliated with al-Qaida.

"The plan was to carry out suicide attacks against security forces, officials and civilians at a shrine west of Kabul," Mashal said. "Fortunately, security forces arrested them and they were not able to carry out their attacks on the new year."

Mashal also said that intelligence officials have arrested two brothers involved in a suicide bombing last month that killed one intelligence service officer and wounded more than two dozen other people in Spin Boldak district of Kandahar province. The two are also suspected of orchestrating a January suicide bombing in a bathhouse in Spin Boldak that killed 17 people, he said.

In addition, Mashal said intelligence agents in Wardak province recently seized a truck loaded with explosives bound for Kabul. They captured 10 suicide vests, 1,650 pounds (750 kilograms) of explosives, 648 remote-controlled devices for bombs and 1,000 meters for detonation wire.

"They wanted to make about 500 bombs out of these explosives," he said.

In the southern province of Kandahar, about 1,500 religious scholars and residents gathered at a mosque on Sunday to protest what they described as Nato raids on Islamic schools. A leader issued a veiled threat.

The coalition had no immediate response.

Haji Maulvi Anautullah, a religious leader, complained that Nato was harassing law abiding students while pursuing insurgents. In the past week Nato raided at least two schools and arrested at least 16 students, he said. The students were still missing, Anautullah said.

"We don't want trouble, but the behavior of Nato forces is compelling us to fight them," Anautullah said. "This is the last time we will talk in a peaceful manner. If Nato and the government don't pay proper attention to this issue, then the burden will be on their shoulders."

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