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Afghan Taliban abducts 40 passengers on Kunduz highway

Taliban takes 40 more people hostage, officials say, as Afghan authorities recover 12 bodies of security personnel.

The Taliban abducted at least 40 people on a highway in Afghanistan's northern province of Kunduz, Afghan officials have said.

The attackers stopped two vehicles - a 50-seater bus and a station wagon - in Khanabad district on the road from Kunduz city to Takhar, police spokesman Mahfuzullah Akbari said on Wednesday.

Seven people managed to escape, Akbari added.

Taliban gunmen are increasingly staging ambushes on provincial highways and main roads in their war - now in its 15th year - to overthrow the Kabul government.

Last week, the Taliban killed 10 bus passengers, many of them summarily executed, and took hostage dozens of others also in Kunduz province.

The group said at the time they were targeting Afghan security officials on board the buses.

Bodies recovered

Separately, Afghan authorities said on Wednesday they have recovered the bullet-ridden bodies of 12 security officials who had recently been captured by the Taliban in eastern Ghazni province.

The 12 soldiers, police and intelligence officers were captured over the past two months from different highway crossings in Ghazni province.

"The bodies ... of our personnel captured by the enemy were discovered in Andar district this morning," Ghazni's Governor Mohammad Aman Hamim told reporters.

The violence underscores Afghanistan's fragile security situation as the Taliban, who launched their annual spring offensive in April, rejected government calls this week for a ceasefire during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The Taliban has so far not commented on the 12 captives and the latest abduction.

Taliban fighters have stepped up attacks after announcing Haibatullah Akhundzada as their new leader on May 25, elevating a low-profile religious figure after officially confirming the death of Mullah Mansour in a US drone strike.

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