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.