New York Times, June 3, 2004

Five Aid Workers Shot to Death in an Ambush in Afghanistan


KABUL, Afghanistan, June 2 - Five aid workers from the Dutch branch of Doctors Without Borders were shot dead Wednesday in an ambush in northwest Afghanistan as they were returning to their regional office, officials said.

The killings were another blow to the embattled aid workers in Afghanistan, who have seen 32 of their colleagues, and at least 5 other foreigners, killed since March 2003, often by Taliban and other militants intent on stalling aid and reconstruction efforts.

Abdul Hakim Latifi, a spokesman for the Taliban, who were driven from power in the American-led invasion in 2001, claimed responsibility for the attack in telephone calls to news agencies. "We killed them because they worked for the Americans against us using the cover of aid work," Mr. Latifi told Reuters. "We will kill more foreign aid workers," he said.

Three foreigners - a Belgian woman, a Dutch man and a Norwegian man - and two Afghan men, all working for the Dutch branch of the medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders, were killed when gunmen fired on their vehicle east of Qala-i-Nau, the capital of the Badghis Province.

Local officials said the killings occurred just before dusk as the five aid workers were returning to Qala-i-Nau from a village clinic.

Officials said they could not be sure if the attack was banditry or a terrorist assault on a foreign aid organization. "In the past, we have not seen such attacks - this is the first," the governor of Badghis Province, Azizullah Afzali, said by telephone.

But he said the aid workers were not carrying money, and he did not rule out a Taliban-inspired attack.

The provincial police chief, Amir Shah Nayebzada, said he thought Taliban supporters staged the attack. "They have increased their attempts in the area recently," he said.

The latest shootings bring to at least 10 the number of foreign civilians who have been killed while working in Afghanistan in slightly more than a year, and seem to confirm warnings from the United States military and Afghan officials that the Taliban would increase attacks before elections in September.

Last month, two British security specialists working on the United Nations election program were killed in an ambush in northeastern Afghanistan, and two Europeans were found bludgeoned to death in a Kabul park. Three foreigners were killed last year in attacks by people suspected of being Taliban members.

KABUL (Reuters, June 3) - A day after the killing of three of its foreign and two local staff in Afghanistan, a Western aid agency said on Thursday it would suspend all activities in the country.

The killing of the Medecins Sans Frontieres personnel in the northwestern province of Badghis on Wednesday was the worst attack on the aid community in Afghanistan since U.S.-led troops overthrew the Taliban in late 2001.

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