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Afghans Tentatively Identify Foreign Medical Workers Killed In Northeast

  • RFE/RL

The medical team thought to have been killed was working to provide eye care to Afghans in the rugged Nuristan Province.

The medical team thought to have been killed was working to provide eye care to Afghans in the rugged Nuristan Province.

Ten members of an international eye-care charity's medical team whose bodies were found in northeastern Afghanistan have been tentatively identified.

Dirk Frans, director of the humanitarian group International Assistance Mission (IAM), says the group belonged to his organization and included six Americans, one German, one Briton, and two Afghans. He says the team had been on a two-week trip to the remote Parun Valley in Nuristan Province.

Officials said the leader of the medical group, optometrist Tom Little, who had worked in Afghanistan for 30 years, was thought to be among the dead.

The bodies, which were found in the neighboring Badakhshan Province's Kuran-Munjan district, included three women.

Frans noted that definitive identifications were not yet complete but suggested that there was little doubt about the victims' identities.

"They say that they have recovered ten bodies, two Afghans and eight foreigners, and actually the description of the people they are taking about -- five adult men and three women and then two Afghans -- that actually looks very similar to our Nuristan eye-care team. So although, at the moment, there is no confirmation that it is actually our team, the indications are that it probably is."

Germany, which has troops in Afghanistan under the NATO banner, has demanded a full inquiry into the killings.

Survivor's Story

Saifullah, the lone survivor of the ambush, told RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan that the ambush occurred on August 5* as the group was driving from Nuristan to Badakhshan.

He said they were stopped by armed men whom he described as "tall and really wild men with long, disheveled hair."

"They just came straight to us and shot each person one by one," Saifullah said. "I was standing on the spot, when he was running towards me. I got down on my knees and started to recite the holy Quran; he left me but shot everyone else."

After reaching safety on August 6, Saifullah called his office to report the killings. Another member of the team survived because he took a different route to his home in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad.

Speaking to AP in neighboring Pakistan, purported Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the killings, saying that the foreigners were "spying for the Americans" while proselytizing Christianity.

IAM director Frans said that the team was made up of doctors, nurses, and logistics personnel. They decided to travel through Badakhshan Province to return to Kabul, thinking it would be safer than driving through a more easterly route where they feared insurgents were more active.

The group's leader, Tom Little, was expelled by the fundamantalist Taliban in August 2001 along with other Christian aid workers accused of trying to convert Afghans to Christianity. He returned to Afghanistan after the ouster of the Taliban regime by U.S.-led forces in December 2001.

Aqa Noor Kintoz, police chief in Badakhshan Province, said villagers had warned the team that the area was dangerous but that the foreigners said they were doctors and weren't afraid.

Candidate Found Slain

In other violence, Afghan officials said the body of a parliamentary hopeful was discovered in the southern Ghazni Province.

Najibullah Gulistani, who was kidnapped two weeks ago, had been beheaded by his captors and his body dumped near his home on August 6, according to a local police chief.

Gulistani intended to run in the country's September 18 parliamentary elections.

* CORRECTED: This story initially stated that the ambush and killings happened on August 4. They took place on August 5.

with additional wire reporting