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ICRC Appeals for Release of Staff Abducted in Afghanistan 

FILE - Afghan men attend a funeral ceremony of an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) employee, who was killed by gunmen in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, Feb. 9, 2017.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, called Saturday for the safe and unconditional release of two staff members abducted in northern Afghanistan earlier this month.

The abductees were part of an ICRC convoy transporting food for livestock of poverty-stricken farmers in the northern Jowzjan province on February 8 when they were ambushed, allegedly by Islamic State militants.

The assailants killed six ICRC employees before taking two others to an unknown location, according to Afghan security officials.

Operations suspended

The charity has since suspended its humanitarian operations across the country, where millions of people are in urgent need of aid because of the intensification of a Taliban-led insurgency.

“We call on the abductors’ sense of humanity and request the immediate, safe and unconditional release of our colleagues and to avoid taking any action that could endanger their lives” a statement Saturday quoted the ICRC’s country chief, Monica Zanarelli, as saying.

“We do not want the agony and heartache of this tragedy to deepen,” she added.

Zanarelli appealed to authorities and armed groups operating in northern Afghanistan to help secure the safe release of the two ICRC staff members. The deadly attack on its staff is the worst such incident against ICRC in the country.

Charity in country 30 years

The charity has been active in Afghanistan for three decades, impartially assisting victims of the conflict with medical care, food assistance, family contacts and the dignified handling of human remains.

Afghan authorities say they have been making efforts to locate the abductees, while the Taliban has distanced itself from the incident.

The Islamist insurgency has vowed to find and punish those behind the deadly attack, saying it respects ICRC’s contributions in helping Afghans and has even called on the charity to resume its activities.