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Protesters Flood Kabul Streets After Beheading Of 7 Afghan Hazaras

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

It was an unusual sight today in Kabul - thousands of Afghans from many of the country's ethnic groups marching in the streets. They were protesting the recent kidnapping, killing and beheading of seven people from the Hazara Shiite minority. Protesters carried the coffins of the victims. One of them was a 9-year-old girl. Earlier today, I talked to New York Times reporter Mujib Mashal who was at the protests, and I asked him, in a country where there's already so much violence, why did such a big number of people respond to these killings?

MUJIB MASHAL: I think it's just the nature of the violence. As you mentioned, we have a 9-year-old girl but also two elderly. And their throats were sort of slit with metal wire, from what we've heard from our source on the ground. But I think it was just the nature of this violence and the fact that these were civilians. They had nothing to do with commanders or with fighting. They were just traveling home. The fact that there's been so much violence this year, an increase in violence, that people are fed up, they were waiting for a spark to just ignite.

MCEVERS: I mean, from your reporting, are you getting a sense of why these people were targets?

MASHAL: It's been really hard to pin that part down. There's been sectarian violence across the border in Pakistan for several years now, and what the Afghan government is saying is some of those extremist elements have been forced into Afghanistan. And they've found ISIS and the Islamic State as a new brand, but it's the same old extremist fighters who carried out sectarian violence in Pakistan. The place it happened in Zabul - it's been a very chaotic web of different kinds of militants.

MCEVERS: Protesters marched to the compound where the president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, lives. What happened when they got there?

MASHAL: The bodies were discovered on Saturday in Zabul. And then the government wanted the bodies to be taken to their home, but activists, late last night, arranged for them to be brought to Kabul. Hundreds with candles gathered, and they received the bodies. And then this morning, they marched about six-mile march from the west of Kabul to the presidential palace.

But after they heard nothing from President Ghani for several hours, a bunch of protestors sort of made a run, and they tried to scale the walls of the palace parking lot. And then we had some palace guards fire warning shots which wounded about 10 protesters, and it sort of dispersed the crowd a little bit.

MCEVERS: I mean, it sounds like the protesters are demanding better security in the country. I mean, is that something the government is able to provide?

MASHAL: Yes. That's the most basic demand. The government has lacked the coordination in the face of these mounting security challenges because it's a coalition government that has been largely wasting time in infighting over petty things. So the representatives of the protesters are meeting with President Ghani and his government officials while several hundred protesters are camped out outside the palace. The larger crowd was dispersed after those warning shots and after, you know, the weather got cold and rainy again. But there still are several hundred protesters out there in the palace parking lot waiting to see what happens there tonight.

MCEVERS: New York Times reporter Mujib Mashal in Kabul, thank you so much for being with us today.

MASHAL: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.