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Italian workers held in Afghan assassination plot

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Three Italians, six Afghans planned suicide attacks, authorities claim
  • Targets allegedly included southern Helmand governor, Gulab Mangal
  • Suspects worked for Italian medical charity Emergency in Lashkar Gah
  • Authorities found suicide vests, explosives hidden amid medicine at clinic
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Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Afghan authorities have arrested three Italian medical workers in a plot to assassinate the governor of the southern Helmand province.

The three workers were arrested Saturday along with six Afghans from a hospital run by Milan-based Emergency in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province.

Emergency is one of the few foreign-run clinics in the city.

The nine were planning to conduct suicide attacks in the province, said Daud Ahmad, the provincial governor's spokesman.

Authorities said the suspects had taken $500,000 from the Pakistan Taliban to launch their attack in a crowded location when Gov. Gulab Mangal was present.

Authorities found two suicide vests, two pistols and explosives hidden in medicine cartons at the clinic, Ahmad said.

Emergency has maintained a presence in Afghanistan for more than a decade, with its Lashkar Gah clinic treating more than 66,000 people, the group said.

In 2007, a hospital staffer mediated between the Afghan government and the Taliban to secure the release of kidnapped Italian journalist Danielle Mastrogiacomo.

Mastrogiacomo was freed but an Afghan translator, Ajmal Naqshbandi, was killed by militants.

Afghan authorities now say the three arrested Italians killed Naqshbandi.

The Italian government could not immediately be reached for comment.

The charity said it has not been able to reach the three employees by phone.

"This accusation sounds simply groundless to us, and we are absolutely certain that the truth will come forth quickly," the nongovernment organization said in a statement on its Web site.

Afghan authorities have not contacted it to explain the reasons for the detention, the group said.

"These are individuals who for years have been working to ensure medical treatment for the Afghan people," the statement said. "We ask that their rights be respected, the first of which is to allow them to communicate with us and let us know their personal conditions."

Journalist Matiullah Mati contributed to this report.