Nineteen of 31 Shiite Muslims abducted in Afghanistan were released Monday in exchange for scores of Uzbek militants in government prisons, provincial officials said, ending a two-month ordeal.
But President Ashraf Ghani denied any prisoners were exchanged to secure the release of the ethnic Hazaras who were seized in late February by masked gunmen from a bus in southern Zabul province.
The high-profile abductions had fuelled suspicions that militants aligned with the ISIL terrorist group were behind them.
“This is a happy and proud moment. Nineteen of our compatriots who had been taken hostage are today the guests of the government,” Ghani told reporters. He insisted that “no ransom was paid… and no prisoners were exchanged”, but two provincial officials said some militants had been freed.