Seventeen Afghan partygoers beheaded by Taliban

Kandahar, Afghanistan - Fifteen men and two women have been found beheaded in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province. Officials said the victims were killed by Taliban insurgents as punishment for attending a mixed-sex party with music and dancing.

The bodies were found in a house near the Musa Qala district, 46 miles north of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, on Monday, said the district governor Nimatullah, who goes by only one name.

"The victims threw a late-night dance and music party when the Taliban attacked," on Sunday night, Nimatullah told Reuters.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility.

Men and women do not usually mingle in Afghanistan unless they are related, and parties involving both genders are rare and highly secretive affairs.

For the Taliban, flirting, open displays of affection and the mixing of men and women are vehemently condemned.

In June, Taliban gunmen stormed a luxury hotel near Kabul demanding to know where the "prostitutes and pimps" were, according to witnesses. Twenty people were killed.

The Taliban said it launched that attack on Qarga Lake because the hotel was used for "wild parties".

During their five-year reign, which was ended by US-backed Afghan forces in 2001, the Taliban banned women from voting, most work and leaving their homes unaccompanied by their husband or a male relative.

Those rights have been painstakingly regained but Afghanistan remains one of the worst places on earth to be a woman.

A spokesman for the Helmand governor, Daud Ahmadi, said a team had been sent to the site of the beheadings to investigate.