The attack began at 9.50 p.m. local time, when a group of armed men entered a HALO camp in the northern Baghlan province “and went bed-to-bed murdering members of The HALO Trust,” the charity’s CEO James Cowan told CNN.
Around 110 men from local communities were in the camp at the time. Cowan said the gunmen demanded to know which team members were from the Shiite Hazara ethnic minority, adding that “when our staff refused to name them, the gunmen went from room to room murdering our staff.”
Cowan said that local members of the Taliban — which the Afghan government initially blamed for the attack — came to the rescue during the attack.
“The local Taliban came to our rescue and chased the assailants away,” Cowan said.
The Taliban, which is fighting to overthrow the Afghani government, denied involvement in the attack to Reuters.
Cowan said that despite the attack — and the expected withdrawal of US and NATO troops later this year — the charity’s de-miners “still have a job to do.”
“We could be fearful of what is happening in Afghanistan. But we were there before 9/11. A full decade before. We’ve been through all the ups and downs of life and death in Afghanistan. And now as the international community prepares to leave. We are going to stay,” he said.
The HALO Trust was founded in Afghanistan in 1988 and now operates in 26 countries, including Angola, where — in 1997 — Princess Diana famously walked through one of its minefields.
The United Nations called for a full investigation to “ensure that those responsible for this horrendous attack are held accountable and brought to justice,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York, Reuters reports.
The Halo Trust is the largest demining organization in the country and after decades of conflict, Afghanistan is still strewn with mines and unexploded ordnance and agencies have been working to clear them in the years since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.
The Taliban is fighting government troops in 26 out of 34 provinces, and insurgents have recently captured more than 10 districts, government officials say.