Human Rights

Save the Children suspends operations in Afghanistan after ISIS storms Jalalabad office


Save the Children suspended its Afghan operations after 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' (ISIS) gunmen attacked its office in Jalalabad January 24, killing at least three people. [Noorullah Shirzada/AFPTV/AFP]

JALALABAD -- Save the Children has suspended operations across Afghanistan after "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) gunmen blasted their way into its office in Jalalabad Wednesday (January 24), killing at least three people and wounding 24 in an hours-long battle.

After blowing up a car outside the charity's compound in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, the attackers used a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) to storm the complex.

At least three people -- two guards and a civilian -- were killed in the 10-hour battle, said Ataullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the Nangarhar provincial governor. Earlier, he said the culprits were wearing military uniforms.

Up to 50 people, including women, were rescued from a basement where they had been hiding, Khogyani said in a statement.


An Afghan man runs with two children near the office of Save the Children in Jalalabad during an 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' (ISIS) attack January 24. [Noorullah Shirzada/AFP]


Afghan National Army soldiers take positions near a Save the Children office in Jalalabad January 24. Gunmen storming the office killed at least three people before Afghan troops ended the massacre. [Noorullah Shirzada/AFP]


Afghan civilians gather on a street as smoke billows from an office of Save the Children in Jalalabad January 24. [Noorullah Shirzada/AFP]

Mohammad Amin, who was inside the compound when the terrorists launched the raid at 9.10am, local time, told AFP from his hospital bed that he heard "a big blast".

"We ran for cover, and I saw a gunman hitting the main gate with an RPG to enter the compound. I jumped out of the window," Amin said.

Afghan TV news channels showed a thick plume of black smoke rising above the compound and what appeared to be at least one vehicle on fire outside the office.

"In response to this all of our programmes across Afghanistan have been temporarily suspended and our offices are closed," a spokesperson said in a statement.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.

Charities targeted

Wednesday's assault comes days after Taliban gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in the Afghan capital and killed at least 22 people, mostly foreigners.

Insurgents armed with Kalashnikovs and suicide vests attacked the landmark Intercontinental Hotel, going from room to room searching for foreigners during the more than 12-hour ordeal.

"Attacks directed at civilians or aid organisations are clear violations of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes," the UN's mission in Afghanistan tweeted earlier.

The assault on Save the Children, which has operated in Afghanistan since 1976, is the latest violence to hit a foreign aid group in the country, which recorded the second highest number of attacks on aid workers in 2016.

Only South Sudan was more dangerous, according to UK-based research group Humanitarian Outcomes.

The International Committee of the Red Cross announced in October it would "drastically" reduce its presence in Afghanistan after seven employees were slain last year.

Security operations in Nangarhar

Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan, is a regular area of operation for ISIS and also has a significant Taliban presence. US and Afghan forces have been carrying out ground and air operations against ISIS terrorists in the area.

While Afghan security forces are conducting most of the fighting against ISIS and Taliban militants, US troops operate alongside them in a training capacity and are frequently on the front lines.

The last major attack in Jalalabad occurred December 31 when an explosion at a funeral killed 18 mourners and wounded 13. Nobody claimed responsibility.

In response to the ISIS threat, up to 1,500 locals in the province have taken up arms agains the terrorist group and join ranks with Afghan forces.

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