Gunmen stormed the compound of an international aid organization and killed nine Afghan employees in the latest brazen attack on local humanitarian workers in Afghanistan, officials said Tuesday.
The assault on the compound belonging to People In Need, a Czech Republic-based organization that has been working in Afghanistan since 2002, began late Monday evening in the Zare district of Balkh, a relatively peaceful northern province.
The assailants shot dead two guards before proceeding to kill seven aid workers, including a woman, said Ahmad Muneer Farhad, spokesman for the provincial governor.
The organization confirmed the deaths of its staff members in a statement to The Times. It said it had immediately suspended work in Afghanistan in order to adopt "measures to strengthen the security of its employees in the country."
According to the statement, the attackers were from outside Balkh and probably unfamiliar with the organization's work, which has included the building and equipping of more than 90 elementary schools.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the Afghan interior ministry, said an investigation is underway to identify and capture the gunmen.
The assault came about three weeks after a Taliban gunman attacked the Park Palace Guest House and Hotel in Kabul, the capital, killing five Afghan humanitarian workers.
Among those killed in the May 13 attack were two staff members of ActionAid, an international relief agency that works in more than 45 countries.
The ActionAid staffers, Mohammad Mohammady, 27, and Dr. Jawid Ahmad Sahai, 36, were also based in Balkh working on agricultural projects.
The three other Park Palace victims were working for the nonprofit Aga Khan Foundation. The victims were said to include a religious leader and a woman who was her family's sole breadwinner.
In a statement Tuesday, Amnesty International called on the Afghan government to increase protection for aid workers in light of the recent attacks.
"Being an aid worker in Afghanistan is an extremely risky business which will only become more dangerous if authorities fail to ensure those responsible for these disgraceful attacks face justice," said Horia Mosadiq, Afghanistan researcher for the rights organization.