Six Afghans Killed in Attack on U.S. Project

Associated Press
Friday, May 20, 2005

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, May 19 -- Gunmen shot and killed six Afghans in an ambush on a major highway in the country's troubled south Thursday, the second fatal attack in two days on employees of a U.S.-funded anti-drugs project, officials said.

The victims were driving to Kabul with the body of one of five men killed in the previous attack when they were ambushed in Zabol province, said Naik Mohammed, a doctor at a hospital in Qalat, where the victims' bodies were taken.

Two of the six Afghans killed Thursday were employees of Chemonics International Inc., a Washington-based contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, the company said. The five victims in Wednesday's attack also worked for Chemonics.

Two others killed Thursday were relatives of one of Wednesday's victims, and the remaining two were drivers.

The deadly shootings were part of a wave of attacks and kidnappings targeting foreigners in Afghanistan. On Monday, four armed men seized an Italian aid worker from her car in Kabul. Afghan police fanned out across the capital Thursday searching for Clementina Cantoni, 32, an employee of the CARE International relief agency.

A man claiming to have abducted Cantoni warned in a telephone interview broadcast on Afghan television that he would kill her unless his demands were met by Wednesday evening. Police said Thursday they had no information on Cantoni's fate.

One radio station reported that a man claiming to have kidnapped Cantoni had contacted the station with a list of demands, including the banning of alcohol in Kabul and the opening of more Islamic schools.

Taliban fighters have been accused of being behind both attacks on the anti-drug workers this week. They have been active in Zabol province for the past three years despite intensive U.S. military operations.

Chemonics is managing a USAID-sponsored project to provide alternative livelihoods to farmers growing opium, the raw material for heroin. The five people shot to death Wednesday were ambushed while driving through southern Helmand province, said senior provincial official Ghulam Muhiddin.

The United States and other countries are pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into Afghanistan to crack down on the drug trade. Afghanistan produced nearly 90 percent of the world's opium last year.

Militants have targeted aid workers many times in the south and east of the country to undermine recovery under the U.S.-backed government that replaced the Taliban government, which was ousted by a U.S.-led invasion in late 2001.

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