Their bodies were placed in the center of the Afghan city Herat , a stark sign that the Taliban has reestablished its hardline rule despite trying . to project a more moderate image.

Mulwi Shir Ahmad Ammar, the city’s deputy governor, told NBC News that the four men had kidnapped a local trader and his son on Saturday morning and had intended to take them out of the city, which sits around 500 miles west of the country’s capital Kabul. They were killed in a gunfight that left one Taliban fighter injured. He said that the bodies of the four men were being kept “in order to teach other kidnappers.” “

Authorities had set up roadblocks and checkpoints across the city to catch them, he said. NBC News could not independently verify his claims.

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Footage of a corpse swinging on the crane in broad daylight in the city’s Mostofiat Square was widely shared on social media and by news agencies. The body was visible from the eyes of a large number of men.

The footage did not show any other bodies, but there were social media posts claiming that other bodies had been hung in other areas of the city.

A senior Taliban commander stated to NBC News that execution was the only way to solve crimes, including kidnapping or murder. Because he wasn’t authorized to speak, he spoke on condition of anonymity.

After the group seized control of the country last month, Afghans and the world have been watching to see whether the Taliban will bring back the harsh rule of the late 1990s, which saw public stonings and limb amputations of alleged criminals, some of which took place in front of large crowds at a stadium.

Despite trying to paint an image of a more tolerant and modern regime, growing evidence has increasingly pointed to a broad and sometimes brutal crackdown by the Taliban in the weeks since the militants took back control as they settle old scores, stamp out opposition and try to force many Afghans to adhere to their strict interpretation of Islam.

Last week, Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, one of the founders of the Taliban and the chief enforcer of its harsh interpretation of Islamic law when they last ruled Afghanistan, said the hard-line movement will once again carry out executions and amputations of hands, prompting strong condemnation from the U.S.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a briefing Friday the U.S. would “stand firm with the international community to hold perpetrators of these — of any such abuses — accountable. “

Washington has repeatedly said any recognition of the new Taliban government would be contingent on the militants upholding human rights.

Yuliya Talmazan is a London-based journalist.

Mushtaq Yusufzai

and

Reuters

contributed.