Crime Justice

Suspected Taliban attacks halt Nangarhar polio vaccine campaign

By Salaam Times and AFP

Relatives June 15 carry the body of a polio worker whom gunmen fatally shot during a string of targeted attacks on polio workers in Nangarhar province. [Noorullah Shirzada/AFP]

Relatives June 15 carry the body of a polio worker whom gunmen fatally shot during a string of targeted attacks on polio workers in Nangarhar province. [Noorullah Shirzada/AFP]

JALALABAD -- At least five people were killed Tuesday (June 15) in a string of targeted attacks on polio workers in Nangarhar province, officials said, in the second assault on vaccinators in the area in less than three months.

The attacks came a day after Afghanistan launched nationwide campaign to vaccinate about 10 million children against polio, the Afghan Times said.

The polio workers were gunned down in three different locations over two hours, in a "co-ordinated attack", Nangarhar police spokesman Farid Khan said.

"This is the work of the Taliban, targeting health workers to deprive people of polio vaccines," he said.

Health Ministry spokesman Osman Taheri confirmed the attacks.

The Taliban denied responsibility.

The attacks took place in Khogyani and Surkh Rod districts, said officials.

An additional shooting occurred in the provincial capital of Jalalabad, the Afghan Times reported, noting that all of those killed in the three attacks were male vaccinators, with four male vaccinators suffering injuries.

On March 30, three Afghan women involved in a nationwide polio immunisation programme were killed in two separate attacks in Jalalabad, a day after authorities launched a new drive against the disease.

The women were killed while they were on duty, going from house to house to vaccinate children against the disabling and life-threatening disease, which still poses a threat in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"These were all targeted attacks against polio vaccinators, and for now we have stopped all polio vaccination drives in Nangarhar province," another health official said Tuesday, asking not to be named.

The Taliban often call vaccines a Western conspiracy aimed at sterilising Muslim children, and they also suspect immunisation drives are used to spy on militant activities.

The Taliban do not allow door-to-door vaccination campaigns in areas they control, say officials.

The country has faced a devastating wave of targeted attacks on politicians, activists and journalists that Afghans have widely blamed on the Taliban.

"We have reached a situation where systematically employees of de-mining, doctor, nurse, vaccinator, human rights defenders and anyone seeking to save our lives and our children are killed," said Shaharzad Akbar, director of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

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The Pakistani consulate in Jalalabad is very active and has assigned many people to launch destructive activities. Believe in God and not in me that they invited even me to cooperate with them. Still, as I knew the history of Pakistani intelligence agencies' support for terrorism, I told them, sorry, I could not work with you. In fact, they gave me an indirect invitation. They told me that they would establish a computer and English language learning institute, and they want me to run it. I thought that if I do so, this will be a betrayal against my motherland because apparently it will be like in the institute, but behind the scene, it will be the center of ISI's activities. If our people really want to be safe from the misery of the devil neighbors and especially that of Pakistan, Iran, and Russia, they should send the new generation's youth to America and Europe to get higher education. There, they will learn the knowledge and will also realize the value of their own country. America and Europe have nothing to do with our religious freedoms, in the economic sector, they have helped our country, and they are not stealing our soil; however, Pakistan and Iran are the enemies of our soil, language, modesty, and religion, and every Afghan human should consider this.