10 Christian aid workers killed in Afghanistan mountains
KABUL, Afghanistan (BP)--Ten workers affiliated with a Christian aid group were murdered in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan after providing eye care to people in a remote area of the country.
International Assistance Mission, an openly Christian charity, has operated in Afghanistan for 44 years, negotiating with the Soviets, the mujahedeen government and then the Taliban for permission to continue its work assisting people in need of care.
But on Aug. 5, only one member of a team survived an ambush by several men wielding guns. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the deaths of six Americans, one German, one Briton and two Afghans, though police have not ruled out an attack by thieves.
The team, which included a 12th member, an Afghan, who earlier left the group to return home on his own, had set out for the remote Parun Valley of Nurestan province in three Land Rovers and then left their vehicles to trek 100 miles through the Hindu Kush mountains, The Washington Post reported.
Once they had completed their work, they were traveling back through snow and rain when they were attacked. The survivor, a driver named Saifullah, said the gunmen lined up the team members and began to execute them. Saifullah's life was spared after he shouted allegiance to Allah, The Post said.
"We are heartbroken by the loss of these heroic, generous people," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this senseless act. We also condemn the Taliban's transparent attempt to justify the unjustifiable by making false accusations about their activities in Afghanistan."
The Taliban said the medical team was handing out Bibles written in Dari, but Dirk Frans, executive director of the aid organization, denied the claim.
"We're not here to proselytize, hand out Bibles or whatever," Frans said. "Our witness is in doing this work under extreme conditions, for people who otherwise have no chance for getting anything."
The Post said IAM's 50 foreign volunteers and 500 Afghan staff members operate in seven Afghan provinces with a program budget of more than $3 million. Throughout four decades of service, four foreign aid workers had been killed and none of the Afghan staff had been killed until the recent massacre.
Among those who died was the team's leader, Tom Little, an optometrist from New York who had worked in the country for more than 30 years and was an inspiration to many who joined the team, CNN.com said. Little had established a system with his wife in which he would give her a 30-second call every 12 hours to let her know he was OK. When two cycles went by without a call, Libby Little said she knew something was wrong.
Also killed was Thomas Grams, a dentist from Durango, Colo., who gave up his private practice to do relief work; Glen Lapp, a Mennonite nurse from Pennsylvania who helped organize mobile eye camps; Dan Terry of Wisconsin, who was a liaison with aid organizations and governments; and Brian Carderelli, a videographer from Pennsylvania.
Cheryl Beckett, a student at Indiana Wesleyan University, had been working in Afghanistan since 2005, translating for women patients before she was killed. Her father is pastor of Woodlawn Christian Church in Knoxville, Tenn.
Another woman who died was Karen Woo, a general surgeon from Britain who gave up a comfortable life in London to promote maternal health care in remote regions.
"Her motivation was purely humanitarian. She was a humanist and had no religious or political agenda," Woo's family said in a statement.
Daniela Beyer of Germany, a translator, also was killed along with Afghans Mahram Ali, a watchman, and Jawed, a cook who went by only one name.
The Christian Science Monitor said the attack has highlighted the trend of rising civilian casualties in Afghanistan and raised concerns among international aid workers that the Taliban may try to prevent future relief efforts.
"Many [aid agencies] had until now assumed that the north of Afghanistan was a comparatively safe area to work in," The Independent newspaper in Britain said. "Aid workers spoke yesterday of their worries that the attack signaled increased hostility towards foreign charities and relief agencies."
But The Post said police in Badakhshan province have not ruled out that thieves unaffiliated with the Taliban could have committed the crime because the victims' belongings were ransacked after they were killed. The Taliban in the past has captured victims and then bartered for their release instead of killing them immediately.
International Assistance Mission said it will continue its work in Afghanistan despite the devastating loss of several personnel.
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach.