KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) -A blast killed nine Afghan policemen as they were bringing back the bodies of four Macedonians kidnapped and killed by the Taliban and dumped in a valley, the Kandahar provincial governor said on Saturday.
In a separate incident, suspected Taliban gunmen shot and killed a former governor of the eastern province of Ghazni, along with three of his bodyguards, a provincial official said.
Kandahar Governor Assadullah Khalid had said on Friday five policemen were killed after the bodies of the Macedonians were discovered hidden under brush and sticks in a valley near the border with Helmand province.
“At first, the information we got was five policemen were killed and three wounded,” Khalid told Reuters.
“But after the bodies were brought to Kandahar, we found that nine policemen had been killed,” he said.
Several police vehicles were returning with the bodies when one was hit by a blast, apparently caused by a mine, he said. Three policemen were wounded.
Violence has increased in Afghanistan in recent months, especially in the south and east, as the Taliban and allied militants step up their battle to oust foreign forces and overthrow the Western-backed government.
The Taliban have vowed to step up attacks in coming weeks as the weather warms up and snow blocking mountain passes melts. U.S. commanders have also said they expect an increase in insurgent raids and bomb attacks.
The Taliban said they kidnapped the Macedonians, who were working for a services company, on March 11.
A Taliban spokesman later said the four had been executed on the orders of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and their bodies dumped.
“These people had come to Afghanistan at America’s behest, therefore they should be sentenced to death,” Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf quoted the order as saying.
An official at the Ecolog cleaning contractor in Kabul said the Macedonians worked for the company.
In the past, the Taliban have labeled as U.S. spies kidnapped employees of companies and non-government organizations involved in Afghanistan’s reconstruction.
U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban in late 2001 after they refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Taj Mohammad, a governor of Ghazni province in the 1990s, and again after the Taliban were ousted, was shot dead by suspected Taliban gunmen as he was leaving his home on Saturday, said Habibullah Khan, administrative chief of the province’s Andar district.
Mohammad, who was also known as Qari Baba, had been involved in the war against Soviet occupying forces in the 1980s. Khan said three of Mohammad’s bodyguards were also killed.
In a separate incident, an Afghan army convoy traveling between the eastern provinces of Paktika and Ghazni was ambushed twice on Friday. Eight soldiers were wounded and one was killed in the two attacks, said army officer Laj Mir.