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Killing of Workers Prompts Red Cross to Suspend Afghan Operations

FILE - An Afghan policeman walks past a Red Cross vehicle in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, May 30, 2013. Suspected Islamist militants reportedly killed six ICRC aid workers and abducted two others Wednesday after ambushing their convoy in northern Jowzjan province.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, says it has temporarily halted humanitarian operations in Afghanistan after Wednesday’s deadly attack on its convoy.

Suspected Islamist militants killed six ICRC aid workers and abducted two others after ambushing their convoy in the northern province of Jowzjan, according to the ICRC and Afghan provincial officials.

Security forces are conducting search operations in hopes of freeing the hostages and capturing the suspects, but provincial authorities have not reported a breakthrough. The victims were on their way to deliver livestock food to needy families in Jowzjan.

“The ICRC has put its operations on hold in Afghanistan for the time being, to allow a deeper comprehension of this terrible incident,” the charity told VOA Thursday.

It added the ICRC needs time to analyze and understand what happened, to pursue its contacts with authorities and to assess the overall security situation before deciding how it can continue its operations in Afghanistan.

IS has not yet commented on the incident while the Taliban insurgency said it was not involved in the attack and promised to find and punish the perpetrators.

If confirmed, it would be the first assault by loyalists of the Middle East-based terrorist group against an international organization in Afghanistan.

IS affiliates have stepped up attacks against Afghan security forces and civilians, particularly the Shi'ite Muslim community, in a bid to establish a foothold in the war-ravaged country.

The terrorist organization claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s deadly suicide bombing in Kabul, targeting mostly employees of the Afghan Supreme Court. That attack killed at least 21 people and wounded more than 40 others, including female judges and prosecutors.

Separately, Afghan officials say that overnight American drone strikes against IS positions in the eastern Nangarhar province killed at least 11 militants, including two senior commanders.

“We can confirm that the U.S. did conduct counterterrorism strikes in Nangarhar on February 8,” U.S. military spokesman Bill Salvin told VOA, without adding further details.