Medical Team Ambushed In Afghanistan

Host Liane Hansen speaks to NPR Kabul bureau chief Quil Lawrence for the latest on the 10 medical workers killed Saturday in northern Afghanistan. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the killings.

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Yesterday, the Taliban claimed responsibility for killing a team of foreign medical workers in northern Afghanistan. Six Americans, a Britain, a German and two Afghans were ambushed, robbed and shot to death as they returned from a remote medical clinic.

There's more information this morning on the victims, and for that go to NPR's Kabul bureau chief Quil Lawrence. Good morning, Quil.

QUIL LAWRENCE: Good morning.

HANSEN: Have any of the victims' names been released?

LAWRENCE: There has been no official release of names. The bodies were returned today to Kabul by helicopter. And the U.S. Embassy has said that consular's' staff and the FBI specialists who are here in Kabul are helping to identify them. They're said to have been stripped of all passports and any other identifying documents.

So we've been able to deduce who two of the members were and one is Dr. Tom Little, an optometrist who lived here in Afghanistan for over 30 years. And another was a young optical surgeon from the U.K., Dr. Karen Woo.

HANSEN: Can you tell us more about the group itself?

LAWRENCE: The International Assistance Mission describes itself as a Christian organization but they're very emphatic that they don't proselytize; they're here within Afghan law. They've been working here since 1966, primarily focusing on eye care and they set up free clinics, a very well-known clinic here in Kabul, an eye hospital we went to visit there today and people are still shocked, both patients and doctors, at the news.

The two who we do know, Tom Little was kind of a legend. In fact, his whole family are somewhat legendary here in Kabul because he lived here since 1976. He brought his family here, his young daughters. He survived the Russian occupation. He hid out in his basement during shelling of the civil war. I met one of his daughters and she described what it was like growing up in Kabul during civil war, with rockets in the streets and bodies in the streets.

He made it through the Taliban time and was essentially apparently fearless. He would go anywhere in the country to bring medical care to the poorest.

Karen Woo, the young doctor from the U.K., I had a chance to meet at a fundraiser before she left on this trip. And she combined - you can see this if you read some of her blogs online - she combined sort of a seriousness about what she was doing, the charity work that she said she enjoyed and she was also - there was a lot of really trivial stuff, a lot of playful stuff on her blog posts about having dresses made by tailors here and kittens here in Kabul. And she was engaged to be married.

HANSEN: Are there any more details on the ambush?

LAWRENCE: They're emerging but there seems to be two main threads. One was the original police reports on it, which is that they were robbed, perhaps marched off into the forest. Another was the Taliban account was that they tried to stop them at presumably a Taliban roadblock. And that might explain why some of the vehicles are reported to have been shot up, and perhaps why all the people were killed, including the women.

One tends to think that some of these people who were fluent Dari speakers would have been able to talk their way through this, being charity workers as they were, if they had actually had a chance to talk. So it's possible that the cars were just shot without questions asked at a Taliban roadblock.

HANSEN: NPR's Quil Lawrence in Kabul, thank you, Quil.

LAWRENCE: Thank you.

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