Five gunmen stormed the offices of international aid agency Save the Children in Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan, on Wednesday, killing at least five people and wounding 24. The assault lasted ten hours and was eventually claimed by the ISIS.
The London-based charity said it was “devastated” by the attack, and announced it was suspending all of its operations in Afghanistan immediately.
“Our primary concern remains to secure the safety of all of our staff,” Save the Children said in a statement posted to Twitter. “In response to this all of our programs across Afghanistan have been temporarily suspended and our offices are closed. Afghanistan is one of the most difficult places in the world to be a child and for humanitarian workers to operate in.”
The attack began with a suicide bombing outside the agency’s headquarters after which the attackers used a rocket-propelled grenade to break in to the building, according to AFP.
Special forces quickly swarmed the scene, according to Afghan news outlet Tolo News, but struggled to contain the coordinated attack.
As many as 50 people were rescued from the basement, according to the Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the Nangarhar provincial governor. The Islamic State claimed responsibility through its news agency, Amaq.
Monica Zanarelli, the head of delegation for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan called the attack “outrageous” and emphasized the difficulty aid agencies face in Afghanistan.
“Increased violence has made operating in Afghanistan difficult for many organizations,” Zanarelli said. “The ICRC this year will continue focusing on our dialogue with arm carriers both the Afghan National Security Forces and the armed opposition to discuss the principles of International Humanitarian Law and the respect for civilians and medical missions. It's a message that must ring loud and clear on days like this."
Abdullah Abdullah, the Chief Executive of Afghanistan, condemned the attack on Twitter, saying “terrorists have no respect for human lives & commit warcrime by targeting civilians & NGOs that are working to save human lives and secure a bright future for children in Afghanistan.”
Humanitarian organizations have increasingly become a target in Afghanistan, forcing many of them to close their doors entirely. Last October, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced that after 30 years that it was “drastically reducing” its operations in Afghanistan after six aid workers were killed in northern Afghanistan and a Spanish physiotherapist was shot dead by one of her patients.
Overall, the World Health Organization reported that at least 164 health facilities shuttered between January and August 2017 due to the country’s deteriorating security situation.
This is the second time this week that Afghanistan has been hit by a major terror attack. On Saturday the popular Intercontinental hotel in the country's capital city of Kabul was stormed by armed militants. Twenty two people died in the siege, including several Americans. The Taliban claimed responsibility.
Cover: Vehicles are seen on fire after a blast in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. (REUTERS/Parwiz)