KABUL, Afghanistan - Gunmen riddled a humanitarian group's vehicle with bullets yesterday, killing three female aid workers and their Afghan driver, officials said. One of the dead was identified as an American.
The bloody ambush in Logar province, southeast of the capital, Kabul, underscored the increasing dangers faced by those engaged in humanitarian and reconstruction work in war-ravaged Afghanistan. It was the worst attack of its kind involving foreigners in several years.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. A spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, accused the women of being spies working against the interests of Afghanistan.
The three women worked for a U.S.-based organization called the International Rescue Committee, which helps develop programs that provide refugees with food, shelter and health care, according to its Web site, theirc.org.
After an initial series of conflicting reports about the nationalities of those killed, the International Rescue Committee said in a statement that they were an American from Trinidad, a Canadian and a woman with dual British-Canadian citizenship.
"We are stunned and profoundly saddened by this tragic loss," the group's president, George Rupp, said in the statement.
The aid group said later that it was suspending operations in Afghanistan.
Abdullah Wardak, the governor of Logar, blamed the attack on "opposition forces," Taliban fighters or other insurgents. He said the bodies of the victims had been recovered.
The vehicle was part of a convoy headed toward Kabul on the main road from the southeastern city of Gardez, officials said.
At least one other Afghan worker with the organization, traveling in a separate vehicle, was reportedly injured in the ambush.
IRC staff members were the target of another deadly attack in Logar last year. Two of its Afghan workers were killed in July 2007 when they were ambushed on the road.
An organization that tracks the dangers faced by humanitarian workers in Afghanistan said recently that 2008 was shaping up as the worst year for nongovernmental organizations since the fall of the Taliban.
At least 23 aid workers have been killed this year, said the group, the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office.
In Kabul, United Nations officials issued a statement condemning the attack and called on all parties to respect aid groups' neutrality and their role in helping the most vulnerable of those afflicted by the conflict.