NEWS | ICRC Suspends Operations in Afghanistan After Six Employees Killed
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NEWS | ICRC Suspends Operations in Afghanistan After Six Employees Killed

NEWS | ICRC Suspends Operations in Afghanistan After Six Employees Killed

Image Attribute: REUTERS

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) suspended operations in Afghanistan after gunmen killed six employees helping deliver emergency relief to a remote northern region of Qush Tepa, hit by heavy snowstorms.

Lotfullah Azizi, Jowzjan's governor said the aid convoy was attacked by suspected Islamic State gunmen. The head of the Red Cross called the incident the "worst attack against us" in 20 years.

He also, told Reuters news agency the aid workers were in a convoy that was carrying supplies to areas hit by avalanches when they were targeted by fighters belonging to ISIL, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group.

The bodies of the six workers - many with close-range multiple gunshot wounds - were taken to the provincial capital Sheberghan and from there to Mazar-e-Sharif, officials say. A search has begun to find the two ICRC employees who have not been accounted for.

"Daesh is very active in that area," Azizi said, using an alternate name for ISIL, also known as ISIS, which has made limited inroads in Afghanistan but has carried out increasingly deadly attacks.

Aid workers in Afghanistan have increasingly come under attack amid a surge in violence in recent years.

"Our operations are on hold indeed, because we need to understand what exactly happened before we can hopefully resume our operations," the charity's director of operations Dominik Stillhart said.

Afghanistan hosts the Red Cross's fourth largest humanitarian program in the world, Stillhart said, and the attack follows a warning by the charity last month that mounting security issues are making it perilous to deliver aid to large swaths of the country.

"The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is dire. We are one of the few organizations that is present throughout the country, and we will do everything we can to maintain our response in Afghanistan," he said.

Speaking from Geneva, ICRC spokeswoman Marie-Claire Feghali told Al Jazeera that the organization makes contact "with all the groups that are active on the ground" to ensure safety before carrying out humanitarian work.

"We do not know why our convoy was attacked," she said.

"Our colleagues were on a humanitarian mission to deliver assistance in Jowzjan ... [Our] team there would have made all the contacts and they were in clearly marked ICRC cars."

Based on reporting by RFE/RL, AFP, Reuters, and Al-Jazeera