The bullet-riddled body of an abducted Japanese aid worker was recovered Wednesday, the latest grim symbol of insurgents’ apparent determination to drive foreign humanitarian groups from Afghanistan.
Afghan and Japanese authorities identified the slain man as Kazuya Ito, an engineer who was seized by gunmen a day earlier in Nangarhar province, east of Kabul. He was the fourth foreign aid worker killed in the country in the last two weeks.
A German soldier was killed Wednesday, the NATO-led coalition announced. The soldier died in a roadside bombing in northern Afghanistan, the coalition said. Over the last few months, Western troop fatalities in Afghanistan have outpaced those in Iraq, where the U.S. military presence is far larger.
The Japanese engineer worked for an aid organization called Peshawar-kai, meaning the Peshawar group, based in Fukuoka, Japan. It is named for a Pakistani city just across the border that is home to hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees.
Ito, 31, was working on agricultural development projects in a remote eastern area of Afghanistan, Japanese diplomats and colleagues said. Authorities said gunmen stopped his car Tuesday near the city of Jalalabad, which lies on the main road connecting Kabul, the Afghan capital, and the border with Pakistan. Ito’s Afghan driver was released unharmed.
Eastern Afghanistan has become increasingly dangerous in recent months. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization says that this is due in part to the regrouping of insurgents in Pakistan’s tribal areas along the border, which serve as a springboard for attacks in Afghanistan. Ten French soldiers were killed last week in an ambush in Kabul province; an insurgent commander believed to be based across the border was blamed for the attack.
Fighting in Pakistan’s tribal areas has paralleled the increased violence in Afghanistan. New confrontations between Pakistani forces and insurgents left nearly 50 militants dead, Pakistani authorities said Wednesday.
On the Afghan side of the border, the governor of Nangarhar province, Gul Agha Sherzai, said an attempt had been made to rescue Ito, but provided no details. Reuters news agency quoted Sherzai as saying the aid worker was “killed brutally,” and Japanese news reports said he had multiple gunshot wounds.
Taliban insurgents, who readily claimed responsibility for an ambush Aug. 13 that killed three Western female aid workers and their Afghan driver, did not directly acknowledge seizing Ito. But a purported Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said the aid worker was killed in a clash between Afghan troops and insurgents.
The insurgents have said that they consider all Western aid groups to be complicit with foreign troops and the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai, and thus legitimate targets.
According to the Peshawar-kai website, the group mainly concentrates on providing medical and development aid to Afghans in their homeland and in Pakistan. It was not known whether the group, which has been active in the area since 1983, would continue its work in Afghanistan.
Ito was the first Japanese aid worker known to have been killed in the Afghanistan conflict; two have died in Iraq.
In attacks against Western forces and aid groups, insurgents sometimes deliberately target nationals of countries where they believe public opinion does not favor a presence of any kind in Afghanistan.
Japan has no troops in the NATO-led coalition, but it does provide logistical aid to Western forces, including maritime refueling support.
Special correspondent Faiez reported from Kabul and Times staff writer King from Istanbul, Turkey. Special correspondent Hisako Ueno in Tokyo contributed to this report.