Taliban insurgents pulled some 50 passengers off a bus in southern Afghanistan and beheaded as many as 30 of them after accusing them of being soldiers traveling in civilian clothes, Afghan officials in the region announced on Sunday. The police chief of Kandahar Province, where the attack occurred on Thursday, said that of six bodies retrieved so far, all had been beheaded, mutilated and dumped. The police had received information that 24 other people had been killed but had yet to find their bodies, the police chief, Gen. Matiullah Qati, said. The attack was on the main road running from the southern city of Kandahar to the western town of Herat, General Qati said. It took place in Maiwand District, which is known as an area with a significant Taliban presence, where attacks on military convoys are frequent. The road is also the main route for British and Afghan army troops traveling to Helmand Province, where the insurgency is strongest. The attack follows a pattern of intimidation and brutality that Taliban insurgents have pursued, spreading terror in an effort to undermine support for the Afghan government. A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, confirmed Sunday that the group was responsible for the killings and said that 27 passengers had been taken from the bus three days earlier and killed after appearing before a Taliban court. "We discovered solid proof and documents that they were with the Afghan National Army, and also we had solid information that they were going to Lashkar Gah to help the army," he said by telephone, referring to the capital of Helmand Province. He said the Taliban had called the men's families to announce that they had been caught and that their throats would be cut. Afghan officials angrily denied that the passengers were soldiers or police officers and said that they were all men going west to Iran to find work. Thousands of Afghans travel every year to neighboring Iran to seek work, via the city of Herat. "This is a very cruel act carried out by the Taliban," said Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand Province. "We condemn this crime and we request that human rights organizations investigate thoroughly." The governor also denied the Taliban's assertion that the men had been traveling to Lashkar Gah to join his administration and work to fight the Taliban insurgency. "I completely reject this," he said in a telephone interview from Lashkar Gah. "It is a total lie." "They were actually going to Herat, and from Herat they were going to Iran to work," he said. "They were all civilian and were from different provinces. They were just going there to get work."The Afghan military spokesman, Gen. Zaher Azimi, told The Associated Press that the men could not have been soldiers because the army always traveled in military convoys or by air. The passengers who were beheaded were on a second bus that was stopped; the 50 people on board were taken off and marched away, the police chief said. Ten were released with the bus a day later, but 40 men were still unaccounted for, he said.