Attackers have detonated explosives before storming the offices of the Save the Children charity in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, reports the BBC.
Afghan security officials take position in a nearby building after an attack on the headquarters of the non-governmental organisation Save the Children in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, 24 January 2018. At least 12 people were injured when a suicide attacker detonated explosives strapped to his body and a number of insurgents entered the NGO office (image: Ghulamullah Habib | Rex)
At least two people have been killed and 12 injured, officials say. It is believed about 50 staff were in the building at the time. At least three gunmen are involved in the attack, reports say, with fighting continuing on the upper floor.
The attack started at about 09:10 local time (04:40 GMT) on Wednesday, January 24, when a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle explosive at the entrance to the Save the Children compound, Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar province, told the BBC.
An eyewitness who was inside the compound at the time told AFP news agency that he saw a gunman hitting the main gate with a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). Images showed a huge plume of thick black smoke rising from the compound. Unconfirmed reports say at least two attackers have also been killed.
Earlier, one WhatsApp message, reported by AFP to be from an employee, had read: "I can hear two attackers... They are looking for us. Pray for us... Inform the security forces."
There are several other aid agencies in the area, along with government offices.
It is uncertain as yet as to who is behind the attack. Jalalabad, near the border with Pakistan, is often targeted by Taliban militants but it is also a stronghold for the Islamic State group, whose fighters have been active there since 2015.
The latest attack comes days after Taliban gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Kabul killing at least 22 people, mostly foreigners.
But in a Twitter message the group denied carrying out the Jalalabad attack.
A statement from Save the Children said the group was "devastated" at the news of the attack, adding: "Our primary concern is for the safety and security of our staff."
It added: "We are awaiting further information from our team and cannot comment further at this time."
The UN's mission in Afghanistan said: "Attacks directed at civilians or aid organisations are clear violations of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes."
The charity has been working in Afghanistan since 1976. It currently runs programmes across 16 provinces in Afghanistan. According to the aid agency, more than 700,000 children in Afghanistan have been reached over the years through its efforts. The organisation says it aims to provide better access to education, healthcare and essential supplies to children across the globe.
Are charity groups targeted in Afghanistan?
They continue to work under tough conditions in the country, facing regular attacks and kidnappings.
The Red Cross announced in October that it was drastically reducing its presence in Afghanistan after seven of its staff were killed in attacks in 2017.
Attacks over the years include:
- May 2017: Attackers storm a guesthouse run by a Swedish NGO, Operation Mercy, killing a German woman and Afghan guard
- July 2014: Gunmen shoot dead two Finnish women working for a Christian aid charity, the International Assistance Mission (IAM), in the western city of Herat
- October 2010: Kidnapped UK aid worker Linda Norgrove is killed in a rescue attempt
- August 2010: 10 members of an eye care team working for IAM are shot dead in Nuristan province
- Additionally, the US bombing of a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz in October 2015 killed 22 people.
The ICRC has issued a statement, saying it is “deeply shocked and saddened,” by the attack.
"An attack against an organization that helps children is outrageous. Civilians aid workers must not be targeted," said Monica Zanarelli, ICRC's head of delegation in Afghanistan. "Increased violence has made operating in Afghanistan difficult for many organizations. The ICRC this year will continue focusing on our dialogue with arm carriers – both the Afghan National Security Forces and the armed opposition – to discuss the principles of International Humanitarian Law and the respect for civilians and medical missions. It's a message that must ring loud and clear on days like this."
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