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10 killed in 'heinous' attack on mine-clearing charity in Afghanistan

The Afghan Interior Ministry blamed the Taliban for the attack. The Taliban denied any involvement.
Image: HALO Trust attack
The coffins of the victims of the attack at a hospital in northern Baghlan province, Afghanistan, on Wednesday. Mehrab Ibrahimi / AP

Gunmen killed 10 people and injured 16 in an attack on a mine-clearing organization in northern Afghanistan, the humanitarian group said Wednesday.

An "unknown armed group” entered a de-mining camp in Baghlan Province, north of the capital, Kabul, and opened fire on HALO Trust staff at 9:50 p.m. Tuesday (1:20 p.m. ET), the organization said in a statement.

Image: Hospital in Baghlan Province
Wounded people at a hospital following an attack by gunmen on the HALO Trust mine-clearing organization, in Baghlan Province, Afghanistan on Wednesday. - / AFP - Getty Images

Around 110 men from local communities in northern Afghanistan were in the camp at the time, having finished their work on nearby minefields, the trust said.

The Afghan Interior Ministry said initial reports indicated that eight people had been killed and 14 injured. The reason behind the discrepancy in the number of casualties was not immediately clear.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement, which said its gunmen fired automatic weapons on people after locking them up in two rooms.

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Forty years of conflict has left Afghanistan littered with landmines and other explosives. Tens of thousands of people have been killed or injured by landmines, according to the HALO Trust.

The organization, made famous by Princess Diana who walked through one of its minefields when visiting one of its projects in Angola in 1997, has been destroying explosive items in Afghanistan since 1988. It says it has helped make almost 80 percent of the country’s recorded minefields and battlefields safe.

The HALO Trust strongly condemned the attack on its staff, who it said were carrying out humanitarian work to save lives.

Ramiz Alakbarov, the United Nations deputy special representative for Afghanistan, described the attack as “heinous” and called for a full investigation to ensure those responsible for violations are brought to justice.

“It is repugnant that an organization that works to clear landmines and other explosives and better the lives of vulnerable people could be targeted,” he said, adding that aid workers and humanitarian organizations are protected under International Humanitarian Law.

The U.N. has repeatedly called on warring parties in Afghanistan to protect civilians. In the first three months of this year, the U.N. mission in Afghanistan said that 1,783 civilians had been killed or wounded in Afghanistan, an increase of 29 percent compared to the same period last year.

As U.S. forces pull out of Afghanistan, Afghans are bracing for further uncertainty. In a country where transitions have often been violent, there is no guarantee the drawdown will bring an end to the Afghan conflict, in fact it may extend it.

Starting with the Soviet invasion in 1979, war and violence has left Afghanistan impoverished, dependent on aid and desperate for peace. More than 100,000 civilians have been killed or injured in the last decade alone.