Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the deaths of six Americans, a Briton, a German and two Afghan interpreters killed in northern Afghanistan in what the U.S. called a “despicable act.”
An Afghan identified as Sayfullah who survived the incident told police the slain foreigners were medical staff from the state-run Noor hospital in Kabul, Agha Noor Kemtuz, provincial police chief of Badakhshan province, said by telephone.
Kemtuz said the survivor told him the group had been traveling for 15 days in Panjsher, Nuristan and Badakhshan provinces. Bodies of the 10 people were recovered in a remote forested area.
“Two days ago, they returned to Karan wa Manjan and stopped their vehicles to have dinner,” Kemtuz quoted Sayfullah as saying. “A group of insurgents with long white and black beards and long white Afghan clothes with turbans arrived.”
The insurgents searched the pockets of the group, took their money and after several minutes shot and killed them, Kemtuz said Sayfullah told police.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the killings as a “despicable act of wanton violence.”
“They were doctors, nurses and medical technicians and their mission was humanitarian and wholly independent from that of any government,” Clinton said in a statement. “The Taliban stopped them on a remote road on their journey from Nuristan, led them into a forest, robbed them and killed them.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed, reached by phone from an unknown location, said the group claimed responsibility for the killings of nine foreigners -- five men and four women --and a translator in the area.
“They were not doctors. They were trying to spread the Christian religion in Karan wa Manjan,” Mujahed said. “And at the other hand they were spies. Our Mujahedeen people arrived there and tried to stop them, but they escaped and our Mujahedeen had to open fire on them.”
The International Assistance Mission, which describes itself as an international Christian organization providing education and health aid in Afghanistan, said on its website it has been informed that 10 foreign and Afghan people, likely members of a team providing eye care in communities in Nuristan, were killed while returning to Kabul.
“This tragedy negatively impacts our ability to continue serving the Afghan people as IAM has been doing since 1966,” according to a statement on the website. “We hope it will not stop our work that benefits over a quarter of a million Afghans each year.”
Record of Cruelty
Clinton said the Taliban has a well-documented record of cruelty.
“Its members have assassinated tribal elders and thrown acid in the face of young girls. Earlier this summer, they accused a 7-year-old boy of spying and hung him,” Clinton said in her statement today. “With these killings, they have shown us yet another example of the lengths to which they will go to advance their twisted ideology.”
The British victim was Dr. Karen Woo, a general physician, who was to be married to a man also working in Afghanistan.
“The expedition will require a lot of physical and mental resolve and will not be without risk but ultimately, I believe that the provision of medical treatment is of fundamental importance and that the effort is worth it in order to assist those that need it most,” Woo had written in a posting on the her website related to the expedition.
One of the Americans was Tom Little, a 61-year-old optometrist from upstate New York who had once hid in a basement from the Taliban in the 1990s and survived rocket attacks during his four decades in Afghanistan, the New York Times reported.
“He had had so many close calls before,” Little’s brother, John Little, told the Times in a telephone interview. “He wasn’t fearless, but he was at peace with danger.”
Another American was Thomas Grams, 51, who had quit his dental practice in Colorado four years ago to work with a group that provides free dental care to children in Nepal and Afghanistan, the Associated Press reported, citing a spokeswoman for the group, Global Dental Relief.