On Wednesday, an attack on a Save the Children office in eastern Afghanistan left four employees dead and four more injured.
Afghanistan’s Tolo news service, said a suicide bomber in a car detonated outside of the Jalalabad office yesterday morning. Then gunmen reportedly entered the building.
Carlos Carrazana, executive vice president of Save the Children, says 47 staff, all Afghan nationals, spent about eight hours locked inside a safe room — a reinforced space supplied with water, food and communications to talk to the outside world. “I could only imagine that it was terrifying because it took a long time before Afghan armed forces could completely clear the situation,” says Carrazana.
The assailants were killed. The ISIS media wing Amaq claimed responsibility but, according to Save the Children, the Afghan government is still investigating to see who was behind the attack.
The casualties from Save the Children’s staff are a program coordinator, an education officer and a guard who had worked with the organization for about 16 years. On Thursday, the group learned that there was a fourth victim — a young man in his 20s who had just starting to volunteer with the aid group. “He had recently graduated from university,” says Carrazana. He adds that several of the men “were the breadwinners of their family.”
Save the Children has temporarily suspended most operations across the country in the 16 provinces where it works — a decision that will affect the 1.4 million children that it says it serves yearly. The programs that will continue during this suspension focus on providing critical health care services, food and education.
“We’re very conscious that every minute that we are not providing our work, it is affecting children’s lives and their whole families. That’s why we’re committed to figuring this out as soon as possible.”
He says teams will resume operations after a security assessment. “Our Afghan staff, they want to continue to work, they want to continue to help the children in the country.” For now, staff are receiving psychosocial support and medical care as needed.
The brutality is just the latest episode in a series of violent assaults on aid workers in Afghanistan. Last year, the murder of a Spanish physiotherapist working with children in an orthopedic center prompted the Red Cross to scale back its operations in Afghanistan. The last time that Save the Children was targeted in Afghanistan was March 2015, when five staff members were abducted and killed in the south of the country.
Carrazana says that the organization has received thousands of emails, tweets, and phone calls of support from people in Afghanistan and around the world.
Sasha Ingber is a multimedia journalist who has covered science, culture and foreign affairs for such publications as National Geographic, The Washington Post Magazine and Smithsonian. Contact her @SashaIngber