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Deadly ISIS Attack Hits an Aid Group, Save the Children, in Afghanistan

Five Islamic State gunmen stormed the Save the Children office in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad after an explosion on Wednesday, killing five people and wounding dozens in a 10-hour siege, officials said. The assailants were killed.

Save the Children, a global charity that provides aid in 120 countries, said it had suspended all Afghanistan operations. It had been working in 16 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, reaching more than 700,000 children.

"We remain committed to resuming our operations and lifesaving work as soon as possible," Save the Children said in a statement.

The Islamic State's local affiliate in Afghanistan claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the group's Amaq news agency. As the group's foothold in eastern Afghanistan has come under pressure from sustained Afghan military operations and American air power, it has increasingly claimed urban attacks.

Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar Province, which includes Jalalabad, said the gunmen entered the charity's office at 9 a.m. after a suicide bombing in front of the building.

"I saw a white car arrive, then armed men rushed out of the car," said a witness, Mohammed Waseem, 28. "After that, a blast occurred, followed by gunfire. I had to run away to seek safety for myself."

As is the case with many such urban attacks, there was initial confusion about the number of armed assailants. When the operation was declared over after 7 p.m., Mr. Khogyani said five had been involved and all were dead.

Mr. Khogyani said the victims included three Save the Children employees, one tailor across the street from the office and an Afghan commando; 24 others were wounded.

"We could have ended the operation in the morning and killed all the attackers, but there were more than 45 civilians and employees trapped inside," said Mohammed Gulab Mangal, the province's governor. "All those employees were rescued to safety."

Bahadur Mushfiq, who works for Save the Children in Jalalabad, was among those trapped for hours inside in the office's safe room.

"We heard a boom, and the gate of our office was blown away," he said. "I don't know the number of people who entered our office, but they had grenades and climbed upstairs."

About 40 or 50 people were trapped in the room, he said, "but all of us got out safely except two people were slightly wounded."

Officials said that the Jalalabad office of Save the Children shared a wall with another aid organization, the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, and that the Swedish group's staff had been evacuated.

There are at least two schools in the area. Pictures circulating on social media showed children, some accompanied by adults and others on their own, running away from the scene.

"This is an outrage," Nicholas Kay, the British ambassador to Afghanistan, said on Twitter. "Any attack on children & humanitarians is a crime against humanity. I hope for a quick and safe end to this horrific incident in Jalalabad."

Aid organizations have been targeted repeatedly in Afghanistan in recent years, forcing some to cut back operations. The Red Cross recently closed offices in two northern provinces and scaled back operations in a third regional hub after repeated attacks targeting its staff. In the latest episode, one of its physiotherapists was fatally shot while assisting a polio patient.

The pace of violence across Afghanistan has been relentless in recent weeks, with civilians bearing the brunt. On Saturday, the Taliban attacked a packed hotel in Kabul, killing at least 22 people and terrorizing much of the Afghan capital during nearly 15 hours of fighting.

[Source: By Zabihullah Ghazi and Mujib Mashal, The New York Times, Jalalabad, 24Jan18]

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small logoThis document has been published on 05Feb18 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.