US, British nationals killed in Afghan attack (Lead)

August 7th, 2010 - 7:20 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Kabul, Aug 7 (DPA) A charity organisation said Saturday that six Americans, one German and one British national on a medical mission were among 10 people killed by militants in northeastern Afghanistan.
Afghan police found the bullet-riddled bodies of eight foreigners and two of their Afghan colleagues in a remote mountainous area between Nuristan and Badakhshan provinces Friday, Agha Noor Kentooz, police chief for Badakhshan, said.

Kentooz, who had initially identified the deceased as six Germans and two Americans, said that “after we received the bodies, now we can say that six of the dead are Americans, one German, and one other foreigner”.

Dirk Frans, director of the International Assistance Mission (IAM), said that six US nationals, one German and one British national, working with “Nuristan Eye Camp Team were presumably killed as they were on their way from Nuristan to Badakhshan province.”

“We are at the moment not hundred percent sure that the people that have been killed are actually our team,” Frans told DPA. “We are working on the assumption that it is the case, but until the bodies are formally identified, it would be presumptuous for us to say that these are the same people.”

The German embassy in Kabul said they were “verifying the reports”. US embassy spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said, “We have reason to believe that several American citizens are among the deceased.”

In a statement the IAM said that “if these reports are confirmed we object to this senseless killing of people who have done nothing but serve the poor.”

“This tragedy negatively impacts our ability to continue serving the Afghan people as IAM has been doing since 1966. We hope it will not stop our work that benefits over a quarter of a million Afghans each year,” it added.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told DPA over phone from an undisclosed location that their fighters killed nine foreigners and one of their Afghan interpreters because they were spying for NATO forces in the area and preaching Christianity.

Mujahid said the team had gathered intelligence information from the area, adding “We recovered espionage documents from them”.

Although the facts surrounding the killing have remained unclear, Kentooz cited information provide by a sole survivor, identified only as Sayedullah, who had told police that his life was spared by the attackers after he recited some verses of the Koran, in a bid to show that he was a Muslim.

According to Sayedullah the team, including medical doctors, had left Kabul via Panjshir province to Nuristan some two weeks ago.

They were en route to Badakhshan when a group of “red-bearded men surrounded them, searched them and then killed them one by one,” the police chief said. Traditionally the elderly men in eastern and northeastern Afghanistan dye their beards with henna.

The team, driving in a convoy of three four-wheel-drive vehicles, had stopped for lunch in a local restaurant in Sharran valley in the Hindu Kush mountain range before being attacked, Kentooz said.

International forces affiliated with the US and British embassies were involved in a recovery mission along with Afghan local security forces to evacuate the bodies to Kabul for further identification.

Taliban militants and fighters from the associated Hezbi Islami group are active in the region.

The province saw the fiercest battle in the region last month, in which hundreds of Taliban fighters fought against hundreds of Afghan police and NATO forces over control of Barg-e-Matal district.

Taliban militants, who have waged a bloody insurgency against the Western-backed Afghan government and more than 140,000 international troops currently based in the country since 2001, have stepped up their attacks on foreign civilian targets in the recent years.

Wary of militant attacks, most aid organisations limit their activities to the capital, Kabul, and other major cities, while some charities that travel to hostile regions are escorted by heavily armed private security personnel.

“We have never ever had any armed protection,” Frans said, adding, “We are a humanitarian agency that basically depends on the welcome that we receive from the local communities, so this team also did not have armed protection.”

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