Seven rescued in Red Cross attack
Two insurgents have attacked a compound housing the International Committee of the Red Cross in eastern Afghanistan, killing an Afghan guard before security forces rescued seven foreigners. It was a striking escalation of attacks targeting international organisations.
The Red Cross has rarely been hit in the more than 12 years since the Afghan war began in late 2001. Considered one of the most respected agencies in the country, it has good relations with all parties to the conflict, including the Taliban, who allow them to operate in areas under their control.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said the three women and four men were safe after police killed an insurgent who was holed up inside the compound. He said one of the male aid workers was lightly wounded.
The other assailant detonated a suicide bomb vest at the building's gate at the beginning of the attack, killing an Afghan security guard who worked for the Red Cross as a staff member, Mr Sediqi said.
Red Cross officials said they were baffled by the attack.
"We are very concerned that the office has been attacked deliberately, knowing that the ICRC is a neutral organisation working for almost three decades to provide humanitarian assistance," said Robin Waudo, communications coordinator for the Red Cross in Afghanistan.
"We have been here through the different conflicts that happened here and we are known by parties to the conflicts."
"We are surprised just like most that an ICRC office can be attacked when it is known by most parties that we are not a political organisation," he said.
The Taliban and other militants have unleashed a wave of bombings and assassinations around the country, testing the ability of the Afghan security forces to respond with reduced help from international forces, who have begun a withdrawal that will see most foreign troops gone by the end of 2014.
The Wednesday attack in the eastern city of Jalalabad was the second major assault against an international organisation in five days. Militants launched a similar operation against a UN-affiliated group in Kabul last week that killed three people. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, and it is unclear why insurgents would want to target the Red Cross - which not only carries out humanitarian work around Afghanistan - but also is the conduit for families to communicate with detainees taken off the battlefield, including the Taliban.