Organizations around the world have condemned the killing of ten medical workers who were serving the poor in the northeastern Afghan province of Badakhshan.
"These senseless killings of humanitarian workers are a great atrocity and will significantly impact the delivery of aid to thousands of poor people," remarked Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, CEO of the World Evangelical Alliance.
"Once again the most needy in society are impacted by pointless violence," he added.
On Friday, ten bodies were recovered in a remote area of Badakhshan and later identified as members of the International Assistance Mission (IAM) eye camp team.
"The team had been in Nuristan at the invitation of communities there," reported IAM Executive Director Dirk Frans, who confirmed the identities of the ten on Monday. "After having completed their medical work the team was returning to Kabul."
Sometime during their trip back, however, the team was ambushed by gunmen and killed for allegedly "spying for the Americans" and "preaching Christianity."
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, which took credit for the killings, said the gunmen found Bibles translated into a version of the Persian language spoken in Afghanistan.
"They were Christian missionaries and we killed them all," he said, according to Agence France-Presse.
IAM leader Frans, however, has strongly denied the allegations, saying that the organization is registered as a Christian nonprofit but does not proselytize.
The charity – reportedly the longest serving nongovernmental organization operating in Afghanistan – serves the people of Afghanistan through eye care, development, education and health care.
"Our faith motivates and inspires us - but we do not proselytize. We abide by the laws of Afghanistan," Frans clarified Monday.
"They (the slain IAM members) were basically selfless professionals willing to spend their lives and energy in a meaningful way," he added.
Among those slain was 40-year-old Glen Lapp from Pennsylvania, who trained as an intensive-care nurse and worked in Lancaster, New York, and Supai, Arizona, and had previously worked in the responses to hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Also killed was 35-year-old Daniela Beyer of Chemnitz, Germany, who joined the eye camp so that she could translate for women patients.
"They were doctors, nurses, and medical technicians, and their mission was humanitarian and wholly independent from that of any government," noted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday.
"Before their deaths, they had spent several days treating cataracts and other eye conditions in the Nuristan Province," she added. "They had traveled to this distant part of the world because they wanted to help people in need. They were guests of the Afghan people.
"We are heartbroken by the loss of these heroic, generous people. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this senseless act. We also condemn the Taliban's transparent attempt to justify the unjustifiable by making false accusations about their activities in Afghanistan," Clinton continued.
Following the incident, IAM said it was "not thinking" of withdrawing from Afghanistan, having worked there since 1966. The tragedy has, however, affected the NGO's work as most of the staff knew the majority of the team members personally.
"The work of the NOOR eye care program will certainly be affected as two of the four international staff are lost. Tom [Little], the team leader of the eye camp, was the driving force behind much of what has been achieved in eye care in Afghanistan. He is irreplaceable," Frans reported.
Still, IAM plans to serve the Afghan people as long as they are welcome.
For now, the group wants to remember and pay tribute to their fallen colleagues and to their commitment to serve the Afghan people. The Ministry of Interior of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, meanwhile, are working to bring the gunmen behind the killings to justice.
The victims of last week's ambush include Afghans Mahram Ali and Jawed; German member Daniela Beyer; British member Dr. Karen Woo; and American members Cheryl Beckett, Brian Carderelli, Dr. Tom Grams , Glen Lapp, Dr. Tom Little, and Dan Terry.