Three people were shot dead at a wedding ceremony in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province after a fight erupted over whether music could be played, residents said.
Ten others were injured in Friday's attack, that followed an altercation between the assailants and residents of Sarkharod town, two residents told NBC News.
The two said that they recognized the gunmen as local Taliban members.
The gunmen "were harsh in their arguments with the family holding a marriage ceremony and local residents," one of the Sarkharod residents said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he fears the Taliban will kill him if he speaks openly to the press.
"Their arguments led to an armed clash," he said, adding that the gunmen "opened fire and killed three people and injured 10 others,” he added.
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Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied that the attackers were members of the group in a statement Saturday. But he confirmed that three armed men had killed three people and injured 10 after demanding that a wedding party stop playing music in Nangarhar.
The Taliban had arrested one person and efforts were underway to arrest the other two assailants, he said.
Separately however, a member of Taliban’s intelligence department told NBC News that the attackers were members of the group. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
The Taliban swept back to power in August, after having been toppled by United States-led forces in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks when the group refused to reveal the location of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Despite pledges of moderation since it retook control of the country, the group which set up an interim government last month, have unleashed a broad and, at times, brutal crackdown as they’ve tried to force many Afghans to adhere to their strict interpretation of Islam.
Journalists have been beaten while doing their jobs, girls have been asked not to attend school until conditions permitted their return, and hundreds of Hazara families have been forcibly evicted from their homes, sparking fears that an ethnic minority targeted by the previous Taliban regime is being persecuted again.
There is currently no official ban on music in Afghanistan but the Taliban have started an awareness campaign to explain to people that listening to music is against Shariah, or Islamic law, Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi said Saturday.
“In some places our Taliban members use force to stop people listening to music but we are trying to avoid such incidents,” he said.
By contrast, two senior Taliban leaders in Kabul told NBC News that music is banned in Afghanistan and that anyone who violates the restrictions will be “dealt with” under Shariah law.
The Taliban leaders, who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the press, did not give details on what the punishment for listening or playing music would be.
Music was banned when the Taliban enforced a brutal rule over Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, which also saw minorities targeted and women stripped of almost all of their rights. The hands of thieves were cut off and adulterers were stoned.
Over the next two decades, freedom improved dramatically in many — mostly urban — parts of the country. Women returned to the office and girls to the classroom. Traditional and modern music was also widely played.
Many Afghans remain desperate to leave the country, which is facing food shortages, as they fear restrictions on personal freedoms will only tighten as the Taliban consolidate control.