KABUL: Gunmen kidnapped at least 17 people travelling in civilian vehicles in northern Afghanistan, officials said on Thursday. It was the second group abduction within a week in the country.

The passengers, all minority Hazaras, were pulled out of their vehicles in Sancharak district in Sar-i-Pul province and taken to a remote area controlled by Taliban militants, the local governor said.

“They are all innocent civilians with no government connections. We have asked local elders to talk to the Taliban commanders and secure their release,” Governor Zaher Wahdat said.

There was no immediate comment from the Taliban.

The three-million-strong Afghan Hazara community has been persecuted for decades, with thousands killed in the late 1990s by Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

There has been a surge in violence against the community, with a series of kidnappings and killings in recent months that have triggered a wave of fury on social media.

The incident occurred two days after the Taliban killed 10 bus passengers, many of them summarily executed, and kidnapped dozens of others in northern Kunduz province. The militants said they were targeting Afghan security officials aboard the buses passing through the insurgency-prone district of Aliabad.

Hundreds of people chanting “Death to Taliban” protested in Kabul on Thursday against the violence in Kunduz.