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Aid group: Unlikely to leave Afghanistan

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: U.S. special rep Holbrooke says killers represent a "small ruthless minority"
  • U.S. Secretary of State Clinton condemns attack, calling it a "despicable act"
  • The International Assistance Mission isn't planning to leave Afghanistan
  • Ten multinational medical workers were shot and killed

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The director of an international aid organization that lost members in a violent attack in Afghanistan said Monday his group is unlikely to pull out of the country, although the incident will affect its charitable work.

Ten multinational medical aid workers -- six Americans, two Afghans, a Briton and a German -- were shot and killed Thursday by gunmen in Badakhshan, a remote northeastern region of the country. Two other Afghans on the team are alive.

Dirk Frans, the director of the International Assistance Mission, said the team had trekked about 100 miles into the mountains of one of the poorest and most remote areas of Afghanistan.

The Americans were identified as Cheryl Beckett, 32; Brian Carderelli, 25; Dr. Thomas Grams, no age given; Glen Lapp, 40; Tom Little, 61; and Dan Terry, 63.

Also killed were Mahram Ali, 50, and a man identified only as Jawed, 24, both of Afghanistan; Daniela Beyer, 35, of Germany; and Dr. Karen Woo, 36, of Britain.

"They were selfless professionals who volunteered themselves for the mission," Frans said.

"As to whether we will withdraw or not, it's unlikely we will. We've been here for 44 years. We've been here through all the civil war ... So I don't think this is the time to leave. But it will affect our work," he said.

Video: Clinton 'heartbroken' by deaths
Video: Aid worker confronted danger
Video: Eikenberry: 'Shocked and saddened'

His concerns were echoed by top U.S. officials on Monday.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday condemned the attack, calling it a "despicable act of wanton violence."

"We are heartbroken," she said. The workers, she noted, were unarmed and on a volunteer humanitarian mission. The killings show the "lengths to which (the Taliban) will go to advance their twisted ideology," she said.

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the attack was carried out by a "small ruthless minority" that does not represent the popular view in Afghanistan.

The bodies of the two Afghans have been handed back to their families. The bodies of the foreign victims will be handed to their respective embassies, the Afghan interior ministry said Monday.

Family members of five of the eight foreign victims have said they want the bodies of their relatives to be buried in Afghanistan.

Although plans have not been finalized by families and the authorities involved, some victims may be returned to the United States for autopsies, said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy.

Frans, the director of the International Assistance Mission, said the tragedy could impact future aid efforts in Afghanistan.

"It has already affected many people," he said. "Many of our staff are afraid."

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, said Karl Eikenberry, U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, but "we do not know whether they are responsible or simply taking credit for the cowardly and despicable acts of others."

Aqa Nwor Kentoz, the police chief in the province, said the gunmen stopped the group on the road, took their belongings and shot them one by one.

An Afghan was released because he was reciting excerpts from the Quran, Kentoz said.

Frans said the staff was not proselytizing. He added the group had permission from the government to be in Afghanistan.

Hans Ronnlund, the assistant to the executive director of the mission group, denied statements by the Taliban that the medical staff was carrying Bibles. Ronnlund said the International Assistance Mission is a humanitarian development organization formed by various Christian groups but said medical staffers do not carry Bibles.

Frans said he has doubts about the team being targeted directly by the Taliban and questioned the motive for the murders, citing a police account that the victims were also robbed.

The team had spent several days in Nuristan province, where they treated people with cataracts and other eye conditions, Clinton said in a statement over the weekend.

"At their next stop, they planned to run a dental clinic and offer maternal and infant health care," Clinton said. "They were unarmed. They were not being paid for their services. They had traveled to this distant part of the world because they wanted to help people in need. They were guests of the Afghan people. The Taliban stopped them on a remote road on their journey from Nuristan, led them into a forest, robbed them and killed them."

Badakhshan, bordered by Tajikistan to the north and Pakistan to the south, is a sparsely populated region comprised of a majority Tajik population and an Uzbek and Kyrgyz minority. Badakhshan was the only province that was not controlled by the Taliban when it ruled Afghanistan.

CNN's Jill Dougherty, Jason Kessler and Alison Harding contributed to this report.