Security

Gunmen kill 10 mine-clearing workers in Baghlan

By Salaam Times and AFP

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Wounded people receive treatment in a hospital on June 9 in Pul-i-Khumri, Baghlan province, following an attack by masked gunmen that killed 10 employees of the HALO Trust mine-clearing organisation. [AFP]

KUNDUZ -- Masked gunmen killed 10 employees of the HALO Trust mine-clearing organisation in Baghlan province, the Interior Affairs Ministry said Wednesday (June 9), blaming the Taliban.

Sixteen others were injured in the Tuesday night ambush, and a spokesman said the toll was likely to rise.

"The Taliban entered a compound of a mine-clearing agency... and started shooting everyone," ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said.

The presidential palace also blamed the Taliban.

"The Taliban are targeting not only de-mining staff but also mosques, schools, teachers and students," President Ashraf Ghani's office said in a statement, describing the group's attacks as a crime "that has no rational justification".

"The Taliban are targeting de-mining workers because they clear highways, farms and villages of mines and explosives and prevent an increase in civilian casualties by armed groups," the statement said.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid denied the insurgents were involved.

The raid happened at about 10pm, when dozens of de-miners were relaxing in the HALO compound after a day spent removing ordnance from nearby minefields, around 260km north of Kabul.

"Around 110 men, from local communities in northern Afghanistan, were in the camp," HALO said.

The attackers wore masks, said Baghlan police spokesman Ahmad Jawed Basharat.

He said casualty statistics of this incident are preliminary and could rise, Khaama Press reported.

A survivor of Tuesday's attack said five or six armed men scaled the compound walls and gathered everyone together before asking if there were any Hazara present.

Afghanistan's Shia Hazara community is often targeted by extremists from the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

"Nobody responded," said the survivor, who was wounded and asked not to be identified.

He said the gunmen then asked the compound leader to identify himself, before shooting him.

"Then one of them said, 'Kill them all'," he said.

"As they opened fire, we all tried to escape. Some were killed, and some, like me, were wounded."

'Heinous attack'

Baghlan province has seen fierce fighting in recent months, with near-daily battles between the Taliban and government forces.

In several districts where fighting has been intense, the insurgents have planted roadside bombs and mines to target government forces, but the explosives often kill and wound civilians.

Afghanistan was already one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, a legacy of decades of conflict.

The HALO Trust was founded in 1988 specifically to tackle ordnance left following the nearly 10-year-long Soviet occupation.

The organisation's website says it has an Afghan workforce of more than 2,600 and has removed land mines from almost 80% of the country's recorded minefields and battlefields.

UN Resident Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov condemned the "heinous attack" on HALO workers.

"It is repugnant that an organisation that works to clear land mines and other explosives and better the lives of vulnerable people could be targeted," he said.

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It is a lie. No Hazara has been killed in the attack on mine-clearing workers of HALO Trust in Baghlan. According to health officials in Baghlan province, among the ten people who were killed, six were Tajiks and four others were Pashtuns, and there were no Hazaras among them. Some circles are trying to give an ethnic or religious color to the Afghan war, while this war is not an ethnic war but a war against the democratic system. The war in Afghanistan is about reaching to power. The government is trying to remain in power, and Taliban are also continuing the war to take over the power.

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Although this type of criminal act is against the regulations of war, the enemies of the Afghan people have decided to target welfare organizations. If Taliban did this, they have committed a big crime, and Taliban's claim of taking the security of civilian populations is a deceptive one. This group has repeatedly targeted aid organizations’ employees. Aid organizations, academic institutions and sacred places are safe from the war, but Taliban, contrary to all human values and human rights, continue to commit crimes against the same places and innocent people. These employees worked with taking the most dangerous risks and playing with their lives to clean up the areas from the danger of deadly mines and other explosives. They had the most difficult responsibility, and by doing this responsibility, they saved the lives of civilians. Targeting them was a great and unforgivable crime. May God destroy perpetrators of this event and I ask paradise to the martyrs and offer my condolences to their families.

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