Six Red Cross staff were killed and two are believed to have been taken hostage by suspected Islamic State group militants in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, the latest in a series of attacks on the international aid group by Afghan Islamist groups.
The murdered staff were all Afghans, according to reports.
“This is a despicable act. Nothing can justify the murder of our colleagues and dear friends,” said Monica Zanarelli, head of the Red Cross in Afghanistan. She said her colleagues were focusing their efforts on finding the two missing staff and that it was too early to say how the attack would affect the aid group’s ongoing operations in the volatile country. It’s not the first time the Red Cross has been targeted by militants in Afghanistan: The group’s Jalalabad office was attacked by the Taliban in 2013, while a Spanish staff member was recently released weeks after being abducted by unidentified militants.
In the latest attack, a team of three drivers and five field officers was traveling to deliver livestock materials south of the town of Shibergan in Jowzjan province when their convoy was attacked by armed men, the Red Cross said. The group said it did not know who had attacked its staff or why.
But Jowzjan province governor Lutfullah Azizi told VICE News that he believed a local militant commander who had recently pledged allegiance to IS was behind the attack. The Taliban, the most powerful Islamist group in the country, has denied any involvement.
Since ISIS announced the creation of the Khorasan province of its so-called caliphate in Afghanistan and Pakistan in January 2015, the Sunni terror group has carved out footholds in the eastern province of Nangarhar, bordering Pakistan, as it competes with rivals the Taliban and al Qaeda for influence.
Despite being targeted by U.S. airstrikes that killed the group’s local leader Hafiz Saeed Khan, in August, ISIS has demonstrated a growing ability to launch attacks far beyond its Nangarhar stronghold.
Recent attacks claimed by the group include: