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Save The Children Suspends Afghanistan Operations After Deadly Attack

Vehicles burn after a deadly suicide attack in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday. Gunmen then opened fire on the building.

Updated at 1:05 p.m. ET

Save the Children has temporarily suspended all of its operations in Afghanistan, after gunmen carried out a brutal attack on its provincial office in Jalalabad on Wednesday, killing three staff members in an assault that also included explosives.

"All other staff have been safely rescued from the office," Save the Children president and CEO Carolyn Miles said. "Four [staff members] were injured in the attack and are receiving medical treatment."

The aid group has been working in Afghanistan since 1976. Despite the halt, Miles said, "we remain fully committed to helping the most deprived children of Afghanistan."

Hours after the attack, SITE Intelligence and other jihad monitoring groups reported that ISIS claimed the attack, referring to a posting by the extremist group's media arm, Amaq. The notice said the attack targeted British and Swedish organizations; Save the Children was founded in England in 1919.

In Jalalabad, local officials said that at least 14 people were hurt in the attack and were evacuated to the Nangarhar regional hospital; however, the number of casualties could fluctuate, hospital spokesman Inamullah Miakhial said, citing a gun battle that followed the primary assault.

Afghanistan's Tolo news service, monitored by Al-Jazeera, said an initial blast in the attack was caused by a suicide car bomber.

The BBC quoted local journalist Bilal Sarwary as saying police told him that Afghan commandos were trying to flush out the attackers, who were on upper floors of the building armed with heavy machine guns, grenades and rocket-propelled grenades.

Islamic State militants have reportedly been active in and around Jalalabad, located about 40 miles from the Pakistan border, since 2015.

Men try to escape from a balcony of the Intercontinental Hotel after an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday.
Rahmat Gul / AP
Men try to escape from a balcony of the Intercontinental Hotel after an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday.

In a statement, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the former Danish prime minister and current CEO of Save the Children International, said the nongovernmental organization was "devastated" at news of the attack. "Our primary concern is for the safety and security of our staff," she said.

Over the decades of its work in Afghanistan, Save the Children says, it has provided "life-saving health, education, nutrition and child protection programs that have helped millions of children."

The attack on the aid organization follows a lengthy siege on Kabul's luxury Intercontinental Hotelover the weekend that killed at least 22 people, including several U.S. citizens.

As NPR's Merrit Kennedy reported, the attack on the heavily protected hotel, for which the Taliban claimed responsibility, is "the latest in a series of large attacks in Kabul. An attack in December on a cultural center killed at least 41 people. And in May, a truck bomb in Kabul killed more than 150 people."

And in Jalalabad last month, a motorcycle-riding suicide bomber struck outside a soccer stadium in the city, killing at least six people and wounding 13.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: January 23, 2018 at 11:00 PM CST
A previous version of this post referred to Helle Thorning-Schmidt as the former Dutch prime minister. In fact, she was the prime minister of Denmark.
Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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