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Two Suspects Arrested in Afghanistan Linked to Fatal Attack - 2003-09-28

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan says two suspects have been arrested in last week's fatal attack on aid workers. Attacks on relief agencies are increasing and have expanded to include Afghanis among the victims.

The arrest of the two suspects is a rare exception in Afghanistan. There have been almost no arrests in connection with a series of deadly attacks on aid workers in the country's rural areas.

Authorities have given no information about the suspects.

The men are suspected of killing two Afghan aid workers who were driving through Helmand province in the country's south last Wednesday, delivering much-needed water to a nearby community. The assailants apparently tried to drive the relief agency car off the highway. When that failed, they opened fire, killing one passenger immediately and critically injuring the driver, who died of his wounds the following day.

The incident is part of a disturbing new trend in that both victims were Afghan nationals, rather than foreign relief workers, who in the past have been frequently attacked. Foreign aid workers now take greater security precautions when they travel.

Two weeks before the Helmand attack, four Afghans working for a Danish aid agency were murdered in nearby Ghazni province. Another Afghan relief worker was killed in August.

Maki Shinohara is the U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman in Afghanistan. She said attacks on aid workers have become more frequent in recent months, and that local personnel are now bearing the brunt of the violence. "We didn't really think that attacks would come to Afghans themselves, but unfortunately what we're seeing right now is attacks on Afghans who are actually there to help the Afghans," she said.

Most of these killings remain unsolved.

Afghanistan's Interior Ministry reported last month that police had arrested a group of suspected militants who said they were sent from a religious school in neighboring Pakistan with the explicit purpose of killing aid workers.

Ms. Shinohara said the United Nations has heard reports that leaflets, allegedly from religious extremist groups, have been found in Afghanistan, urging such attacks. "There are some leaflets going around basically calling on people to go after aid workers, internationals and sometimes, local Afghans working for aid agencies," she said. "We really don't know the credence of this, but it's certainly a worrying development."

She said that while the Afghan countryside is generally plagued by violence, including attacks by rural bandits, most groups do not specifically target aid workers.