The International Committee of the Red Cross says six of its staff members were shot dead and two are missing after their convoy was attacked by unknown assailants in Afghanistan.
The Red Cross workers were on their way to deliver livestock materials when they were attacked near the town of Shibergan in the northern province of Jawzan, close to Afghanistan’s border with Turkmenistan. Reuters reports that the area has been pounded by snowstorms in recent days.
The ICRC says “it is not yet clear who carried out the attack or why.”
The provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani, tells The Associated Press that the attack “was likely carried out by Islamic State militants, who have a presence in the area.” The news service adds that no group has claimed responsibility for the attack and that the Taliban says it was not involved.
The ICRC has worked in Afghanistan for 30 years, NPR’s Greg Myre reports. He says its neutrality “is widely respected, with rare exceptions. But the group says it’s putting aid operations on hold while it assesses the attack.”
“We need to understand more clearly what happened,” ICRC Director of Operations Dominik Stillhart tells the BBC. “But… this is one of the most critical humanitarian contexts and we will definitely do everything to continue our operations there.”
ICRC President Peter Maurer says, “These staff members were simply doing their duty, selflessly trying to help and support the local community.”
He adds: “This is a huge tragedy. We’re in shock.”
Greg reports that “civilian casualties have been on the rise throughout Afghanistan, and this shooting came just a day after a suicide bomber struck at the Supreme Court in Kabul, killing at least 20.”