The statue of Abdul Ali Mazari in Bamiyan province, Afghanistan, is pictured, still intact, in 2017. Photo: AFP / Valeriy Melnikov / Sputnik

A statue of a prominent anti-Taliban fighter killed by the group before they took power for the first time in the 1990s has been decapitated in Bamiyan city, residents said Wednesday.

Abdul Ali Mazari, a political leader who represented Afghanistan’s ethnic Hazara community, was declared a national martyr in 2016 – more than two decades after the Taliban said he had died in a gunfight aboard a helicopter.

“We are not sure who has blown up the statue, but there are different groups of Taliban present here, including some … who are known for their brutality,” a resident told AFP, asking not to be named.

Pictures of the damaged statue being shared on social media showed it largely intact, but with the head resting at the plinth.

Another resident, who asked to be identified only as Zara, said a group of Taliban fighters used a rocket-propelled grenade to destroy it on Tuesday.

“The statue is destroyed and people are sad – but also scared,” she said.

The Taliban swept back to power in Afghanistan at the weekend, 20 years after being ousted by a US-led invasion in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

They earned notoriety in 2001 for destroying two giant Buddha statues in Bamiyan after deeming them un-Islamic.

While they made no apology for the destruction of the statues at the time, in the days since returning to power they have tried to portray themselves as a different movement, saying for example that they will allow girls to attend school and women to work.

Comprising roughly 10 to 20 percent of Afghanistan’s 38 million population, Hazaras have long been persecuted for their largely Shiite faith by Sunni hardliners in a country wracked by deep ethnic divisions.

In 1995, the Taliban said Mazari was killed in a gun battle on a helicopter taking him and other prisoners to Kandahar, the Islamist hardliners’ spiritual birthplace.

A spokesman for the group at the time said that Mazari had snatched a Kalashnikov rifle from a guard and shot dead six Taliban fighters, before being killed himself.