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Aug 8th, 2010

Afghan Medical Mission Ends in Death for 6 Americans

4 others also slain in Taliban ambush on Christian charity workers

Tom Little, seen with Libby Little in this 2001 picture, was killed in a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan. (Photo credit: Tom Lapoint / AP)

Aug. 7, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan — They hiked for more than 10 hours over rugged mountains — unarmed and without security — to bring medical care to isolated Afghan villagers until their humanitarian mission took a tragic turn.

Ten members of the Christian medical team — six Americans, two Afghans, one German and a Briton — were gunned down in a gruesome slaughter that the Taliban said they carried out, alleging the volunteers were spying and trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. The gunmen spared an Afghan driver, who recited verses from the Islamic holy book Quran as he begged for his life.

Team members — doctors, nurses and logistics personnel — were attacked as they were returning to Kabul after their two-week mission in the remote Parun valley of Nuristan province about 160 miles north of Kabul. They had decided to veer northward into Badakhshan province because they thought that would be the safest route back to Kabul, said Dirk Frans, director of the International Assistance Mission, which organized the team.

The bullet-riddled bodies — including three women — were found Friday near three four-wheeled drive vehicles in a wooded area just off the main road that snakes through a narrow valley in the Kuran Wa Munjan district of Badakhshan, provincial police chief Gen. Agha Noor Kemtuz told The Associated Press.

One of the dead Americans had spent about 30 years in Afghanistan, rearing three daughters and surviving both the Soviet invasion and bloody civil war of the 1990s that destroyed much of Kabul.

‘Spying for Americans’

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told the AP that they killed the foreigners because they were “spying for the Americans” and “preaching Christianity.” In a Pashto language statement acquired by the AP, the Taliban also said the team was carrying Dari language bibles and “spying gadgets.”

Frans said the International Assistance Mission, or IAM, one of the longest serving non-governmental organizations operating in Afghanistan, is registered as a nonprofit Christian organization but does not proselytize.

Frans said the team had driven to Nuristan, left their vehicles and hiked for nearly a half day with pack horses over mountainous terrain to reach the Parun valley where they traveled from village to village on foot offering medical care for about two weeks. …

‘Flat broke’ in war zone

Among the dead was team leader Tom Little, an optometrist from Delmar, New York, who has been working in Afghanistan for about 30 years and spoke fluent Dari, one of the two main Afghan languages, Frans said. …

Another relief organization, Bridge Afghanistan, said on its website that the group included one of its members, Dr. Karen Woo, who gave up a job in a private clinic in London to do humanitarian work in Afghanistan. A message posted last March on the Bridge Afghanistan website said she was “flat broke and living in a war zone but enjoying helping people in great need.” …

Often targeted by militants

The surviving driver, Saifullah, told authorities that team members stopped for lunch Thursday afternoon in the Sharron valley and were accosted by gunmen when they returned to their vehicles, according to Kemtuz, the Badakhshan police chief. The volunteers were forced to sit on the ground. The gunmen looted the vehicles, then fatally shot them, Kemtuz said.

The Afghan driver who survived “told me he was shouting and reciting the holy Quran and saying ‘I am Muslim. Don’t kill me,'” Kemtuz said. The gunmen let the driver go free the next day. A shepherd witnessed the carnage and reported the killings to the local district chief, who then brought the bodies to his home, Kemtuz said.

Aid workers have been often targeted by insurgents.

In 2007, 23 South Korean aid workers from a church group were taken hostage in southern Afghanistan. Two were killed and the rest were later released. In August 2008, four International Rescue Committee workers, including three women, were gunned down in Logar province in eastern Afghanistan.

In October 2008, Gayle Williams, who had dual British and South African citizenship, was killed by two gunmen on a motorcycle as she walked to work in the capital of Kabul. In late 2009, a French aid worker was kidnapped at gunpoint in the Afghan capital. Dany Egreteau, a 32-year-old worker for Solidarite Laique, or Secular Solidarity, who was seen in an emotional hostage video, was later released after a month in captivity.



Workers’ deaths shake Afghanistan’s aid community (NBC Nightly News, August 8, 2010) — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is condemning the killing of 10 medical aid workers — 6 of them Americans — describing the act in terms of a brutal ambush, robbery and murder. NBC’s Mike Taibbi reports. (3:00)


Sketches of 10 People Slain in Afghan Aid Attack

Image: Dr. Thomas Grams
Dr. Thomas Grams

Aug. 9, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan — A 12-member team with International Assistance Mission set off from Afghanistan’s capital for remote Nuristan province to operate a mobile clinic with eye doctors, a dentist and a general practitioner for people who had little access to medical care. Ten of the team were killed in an ambush Aug. 5 in neighboring Badakhshan province as they made their return trip to Kabul.

A look at those who died:

— Team leader Tom Little of Delmar, New York, had worked in Afghanistan since the late 1970s and was the “driving force” in the efforts of the International Assistance Mission, or IAM, to expand vision care in the country. Fluent in the Afghan language Dari, Little and his wife raised three daughters in Kabul despite political turmoil and a bloody civil war. … The 61-year-old Little was affectionately known as “Mister Tom” among many staff at the NOOR eye hospital that he helped build. He recruited many of the team members to the Nuristan trip.

— Dr. Karen Woo, 36, the lone Briton among the dead, gave up her job with a private clinic in London to work in Afghanistan. She was planning to leave in a few weeks to get married, friends said. “Her motivation was purely humanitarian. She was a humanist and had no religious or political agenda,” her family said in a statement. She was a general surgeon and went on the trip to bring treatment to mothers in the remote parts of Nuristan.

— Glen Lapp, 40, was a trained nurse from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who had come to Afghanistan in 2008 for a limited assignment but decided to stay, serving as an executive assistant at IAM and manager of its provincial eye care program, according to the Mennonite Central Committee, a relief group based in Akron, Pennsylvania. … He also previously helped with medical response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In Afghanistan, he was responsible for organizing mobile eye camps like the Nuristan trip.

— Dr. Thomas Grams, 51, quit his dental practice in Durango, Colorado, four years ago to work full-time giving poor children free dental care in Afghanistan and Nepal. His twin brother, Tim, said Grams wasn’t trying to spread religious views.

— Dan Terry, 63, of Wisconsin came to Afghanistan in 1971. He and his wife settled here in 1980 and raised three daughters in the country. He worked with impoverished ethnic groups, trying to make connections between aid organizations and the government to improve services in remote areas. …

— Cheryl Beckett, the 32-year-old daughter of a Knoxville, Tennessee, pastor, had spent six years in Afghanistan and specialized in nutritional gardening and mother-child health, her family said. Beckett, who was her high school valedictorian at a Cincinnati-area high school and held a biology degree, had also spent time doing work in Honduras, Mexico, Kenya and Zimbabwe. Her job on the trip was to translate for women patients.

— Daniela Beyer, 35, of Chemnitz, Germany, was a linguist and a translator in German, English and Russian. She also spoke Dari and was learning Pashto. She worked for the IAM from 2007 to 2009 doing linguistic research and joined the eye camp so that she could translate for women patients.

— Brian Carderelli, 25, of Harrisonburg, Virginia, was a freelance videographer who worked as a public relations manager for the International School of Kabul. He was recruited by the school shortly after he graduated from James Madison University in 2009. …

— Mahram Ali, 50, an Afghan from eastern Wardak province had worked as a watchman with NOOR eye hospital in Kabul since 2007. He guarded the team’s vehicles as they left them to trek more than 100 miles into Nuristan. He leaves behind a wife and three young children.

— Jawed, a 24-year-old Afghan from Panjshir province, was the team’s cook. He worked as a cook at a government eye hospital in Kabul and had been given time off to go with the IAM team. The organization said Jawed, who had gone on a number of similar trips with the IAM eye doctors to Nuristan, was well-loved for his sense of humor. He also helped the doctors hand out eyeglasses.


8/9/10 Update: Video posted upon request by

Ten Medical Aid Workers Killed in Taliban Ambush

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