KABUL -- Suspected Taliban insurgents have killed three women international aid workers and their Afghan driver in an ambush in Afghanistan, officials said.
It was the bloodiest single attack on foreign aid workers in recent years in Afghanistan. Rising violence has already forced aid agencies to restrict humanitarian work at a time when drought and high prices are putting more people under pressure.
"They were traveling in a car towards Kabul," said Abdullah Wardak, the governor of Logar Province south of Kabul where the incident took place.
"Three foreign women employees of IRC (International Rescue Committee) and their local driver were killed in this ambush by the opposition forces," he said. "I do not know the identity of the foreigners."
The U.S.-based IRC's work in Afghanistan focuses on providing returning refugees with shelter, water and sanitation, and developing the health-care system.
A spokesman for the IRC in London said she could not confirm the nationalities of the dead women.
"We are still contacting the next of kin. We hope to have a statement in the next couple of hours," Lydia Gomersall said. "It's a dreadful shock, it really is very, very sad news."
Asked if there had been any threats against the IRC, she said: "Obviously working in a country like that, there are always risks, but I don't think there were any specific problems."
Aid agencies this month complained that rising violence in Afghanistan was hampering their work and said 19 Afghan NGO staff had been killed this year.
Three district IRC offices have been attacked and destroyed since March, the agency said on its website. An Afghan and his driver working for IRC were shot dead in an ambush, also in Logar Province, in July 2007.
Security forces have recovered the bodies of the victims, Wardak said, adding the assailants had carried out the attack from a car.
Violence has surged in Afghanistan this year with more clashes in each of the last three months than in any month since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001.