An international Christian charity said Saturday that militants killed part of its 12-member medical team, including six Americans, one German, one Briton and two Afghan interpreters, in a remote area of northern Afghanistan.
Officials with the group International Assistance Mission say the members of the medical team, including women, were killed while returning to Kabul from an eye clinic in the northern Nuristan province.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. A Taliban spokesman told news agencies that they killed the members of the group because they were Christian missionaries.
One Afghan traveling with the group said the attackers spared him after he recited passages from the Koran and said he was a Muslim.
The director of International Assistance Mission Dirk Frans denies the Taliban's accusations that the members of his group were missionaries. He says they were on a peaceful mission to help people in a remote area of Afghanistan.
"We had no security people," said Frans. "We actually are a humanitarian agency. We don't have any armed guards. We allow no weapons at all."
While the group's website says it is a Christian organization and cites a "dependency on God" as one of its core values, it notes that the group does not discriminate in giving aid nor uses it to further a particular political or religious standpoint.
The website says International Assistance Mission started working in Afghanistan in 1966 at the request of the government to focus on eye care. Its mission has since expanded to helping with renewable energy, primary mental health care, physiotherapy, teaching English and community development.
Authorities discovered the bullet-ridden bodies Friday. Local officials say the attack happened in a dense forest in Badakhshan province. Villagers had warned the group that the forest was dangerous.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Frans said the group had decided to travel through Badakhshan province to return to the capital because they thought that would be the safest route.
Shams-ur-Rehman Shams, deputy governor for Badakhshan province, says that the security situation in Badakhshan used to be really good, but in the last few months, they have had rising levels of insecurity. But despite the violence, he says Afghan forces have been able to kill some insurgents.
Levels of violence in Afghanistan have reached their highest levels since the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban government in late 2001. July was the deadliest month for U.S. forces in Afghanistan with 66 American troops confirmed killed.