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3 foreign aid workers killed in Afghanistan

Special to The Times

Gunmen riddled a humanitarian group’s vehicle with bullets Wednesday, killing three foreign female aid workers and their Afghan driver, officials said. One of the dead was identified as a Trinidadian American.

The bloody ambush in Lowgar province, south of Kabul, the capital, underscored the increasing dangers faced by those engaged in humanitarian and reconstruction work in war-wrecked Afghanistan. It was the worst attack of its kind involving foreigners in several years.

The Taliban claimed responsibility. A spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, accused the women of being spies who worked against the interests of Afghanistan.

The three women worked for the New York-based International Rescue Committee, which helps develop programs for providing refugees with food, shelter and healthcare, according to its website, theirc.org.

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The IRC released a statement identifying those killed as Jacqueline Kirk, 40, a dual British-Canadian national; Nicole Dial, 30, a citizen of both Trinidad and the United States; Shirley Case, 30, a Canadian; and Mohammad Aimal, 25, the Afghan driver.

“We are stunned and profoundly saddened by this tragic loss,” the group’s president, George Rupp, said in the statement. The group later said it was suspending its operations in Afghanistan.

Abdullah Wardak, the governor of Lowgar, blamed the attack on “opposition forces,” Taliban fighters or other insurgents. He said the victims’ bodies had been recovered.

The vehicle was part of a convoy traveling toward Kabul on the main road from Gardez, about 60 miles south of the capital, officials said.

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At least one other Afghan worker with the organization, traveling in a separate vehicle, was reported hurt in the ambush.

IRC staffers were the target of another deadly attack in Lowgar just more than a year ago. Two of its Afghan workers were killed in July 2007 when they also were ambushed on the road.

An organization that tracks the dangers faced by humanitarian workers in Afghanistan said recently that 2008 was shaping up as the worst year for nongovernmental organizations since the fall of the Taliban. At least 23 aid workers have been killed this year, said the group, the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office.

In Kabul, the United Nations issued a statement condemning the attack and called on all parties to respect aid groups’ neutrality and their role in helping the most vulnerable of those affected by the conflict.

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laura.king@latimes.com

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Special correspondent Faiez reported from Kabul and Times staff writer King from Islamabad, Pakistan.

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