Murder of nine employees: the worst tragedy in PIN history. All work in Afghanistan temporarily suspendedPublished: Jun 3, 2015 Reading time: 3 minutes
Prague, Mazar-e Sharif, 3 June 2015 – In the night of 2 June 2015, unidentified gunmen entered a field office of People in Need in the remote district of Zare in Balkh Province, northern Afghanistan. They subsequently shot nine employees of the organization, killing them on the spot. “The victims include five members of the National Solidarity Program team, two unarmed guards and two drivers hired by the organization,” specified Ross Hollister, PIN country director in Afghanistan. “Among the five development workers were two engineers, two social organizers including one woman, and a district team leader. Two other employees, who were also in the compound at the time of the attack, managed to survive by hiding in a dark room.” On the day following the incident, a support team arrived in Afghanistan, including PIN Executive Director Šimon Pánek. The organization will support the victims’ families by covering their funeral and other related expenses and providing financial compensation.
The compound, which consists of several office buildings and a guesthouse, has been used by People in Need since 2004, and was permanently staffed. The attackers entered the compound around 1.30 am and searched the rooms, killing everyone they could find. PIN management learned of the attack from the survivors and immediately mobilized a crisis team. “Our priority is to minimize the risk to other employees and take care of the victims, their families, and the survivors,” says Jan Mrkvička, Director of the PIN Relief and Development Department. The bodies of the victims were handed over to their families in Mazar-e Sharif and Zare. The attack is being investigated by the Afghan police and local authorities. So far, there is no evidence confirming the identity of the attackers. Afghan police blamed the Taliban, but no group has claimed responsibility for the incident so far. No assets were stolen from the compound.
This incident is the biggest tragedy in PIN’s history. No warnings, threats, or other messages were received to indicate an increased threat. PIN has been helping in Zare District since 2002, originally facilitating the return of former refugees and gradually expanding its services to develop rural infrastructure including management of water resources, improving sanitation, and building education and health facilities. In recent years the organization has worked on improving agriculture, management of natural resources, and developing rural infrastructure. The team also has provided emergency relief after floods and landslides. During the course of its activities, the organization was well received by the local community.
In the context of continuing armed conflict in Afghanistan, targeted attacks on aid organizations were rare. In recent years however, the security situation has deteriorated and aid workers are targeted directly more frequently, making Afghanistan one of the most dangerous countries to work in. According to ACBAR, the umbrella organization for NGOs operating in Afghanistan, 26 aid workers have been killed since January 2015, with an additional 17 wounded and 40 abducted.
PIN currently is assessing the risks to its employees and is considering its future modus operandi in Zare and other areas in Afghanistan. Its activities in all of Afghanistan have been suspended for a week. “Until we can exclude the less likely possibility of a targeted attack on People in Need as an organization, which would extend the threat to our other offices and colleagues, we will not resume our activities,” says Jan Mrkvička. “In Zare, we will not resume our work until we can guarantee the security of our employees,” he adds.
A number of organizations have condemned the attack for its brutality, including the UN and EU, the President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani, and dozens of aid organizations working in Afghanistan. The EU Special Representative for Afghanistan, along with many others, have expressed deep condolences to the families of the victims and voiced their appreciation for the crucial contribution of People in Need to the country.
For more information about the program which the victims worked on, look for the Rural Infrastructure Development section here.
Tomáš Urban, media coordinator
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