Christian Charity Will Not Leave Afghanistan Despite Attack on Its Medical Team

August 9, 2010 - 8:57 AM
The 10 team members, 6 of them Americans, were gunned down Thursday after finishing a two-week mission providing medical care to impoverished villagers in remote Nuristan province.
Kabul, Afghanistan (AP) - A Christian charity said Monday that it had no plans to leave Afghanistan despite the murders of 10 members of its medical aid team and repeated that the organization does not attempt to convert Muslims to Christianity.
 
The 10 team members -- six Americans, two Afghans, one Briton and a German -- were gunned down Thursday after they were accosted by gunmen after finishing a two-week mission providing medical care to impoverished villagers in remote Nuristan province. The Taliban have claimed responsibility and alleged the group were spies and tried to convert Muslims.
 
During a press conference Monday, the International Assistance Mission, a Kabul-based charity that organized the trip, released the names of the last two victims. They were Brian Carderelli of Harrisonburg, Virginia, a freelance videographer who worked for the International School of Kabul, and Daniela Beyer of Chemnitz, Germany. German media say she was a 35-year-old translator.
 
"We want to pay tribute to each of our colleagues who died, to their commitment to serve the Afghan people," said IAM director Dirk Frans. "Those who have known them and seen them at work can do nothing but pay the highest tribute to them."
 
Frans displayed an Afghan government document granting the team permission to treat people in the remote Parun valley for eye diseases and insisted there was no attempt to preach Christianity.
 
"Our faith motivates and inspires us -- but we do not proselytize," he said. Frans said it was likely that members of the group were carrying personal Bibles in English and German but not in Afghan languages as alleged by the Taliban.
 
Frans said the organization has worked in Afghanistan for four decades and has no plans to leave. Of the eight foreigners, families of five have requested burials in Afghanistan, Frans said. The bodies are being flown back to the U.S. for FBI autopsies and returned to Kabul later for burial.
 
But Frans acknowledged that the losses left the organization "devastated."
 
Team leader Tom Little of Delmar, New York, had worked in Afghanistan since the late 1970s and was the "driving force" in the group's efforts to expand vision care in the country. Fluent in the Afghan language Dari, Little and his wife raised three daughters in Kabul despite political turmoil and a bloody civil war.
 
"He is irreplaceable," Frans said.
 
The bodies were flown from northern Afghanistan back to Kabul by helicopter Sunday along with the lone survivor of the attack, an Afghan driver who said he was spared because he was a Muslim and recited Islamic holy verses as he begged for his life. The IAM said the driver had been a trusted employee with four years of service.
 
Police said they don't know if he is a witness or an accomplice in the killings.
 
"We are heartbroken by the loss of these heroic, generous people," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Washington. She condemned the Taliban for the deaths and what she called a "transparent attempt to justify the unjustifiable by making false accusations about their activities."
 
Among the victims was Dan Terry, 64, who had lived in Afghanistan since 1980 with his wife, rearing three daughters while working with impoverished ethnic groups.
 
Others had made financial sacrifices to come here.
 
Dr. Thomas Grams, 51, quit his dental practice in Durango, Colorado, four years ago to work full-time giving poor children free dental care in Afghanistan and Nepal. His twin brother, Tim, said Grams wasn't trying to spread religious views.
 
"He knew the laws, he knew the religion. He respected them. He was not trying to convert anybody," Tim Grams said, holding back tears in a telephone call from Anchorage, Alaska. "His goal was to provide dental care and help people."
 
Khris Nedam, head of a charity called Kids 4 Afghan Kids that builds schools and wells, said Grams and the others were "serving the least for all the right reasons."
 
"The kids had never seen toothbrushes, and Tom brought thousands of them," Nedam said Sunday. "He trained them how to brush their teeth, and you should've seen the way they smiled after they learned to brush their teeth."
 
Nedam said the medical group had never talked of religion with Afghans.
 
"Their mission was humanitarian, and they went there to help people," said Nedam, a third-grade teacher from Livonia, Michigan.
 
Dr. Karen Woo, 36, the lone Briton among the dead, gave up her job with a private clinic in London to work in Afghanistan. She was planning to leave in a few weeks to get married, friends said.
 
"Her motivation was purely humanitarian. She was a humanist and had no religious or political agenda," her family said in a statement.
 
Another victim, Glen Lapp, 40, a trained nurse from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, had come to Afghanistan in 2008 for a limited assignment but decided to stay, serving as an executive assistant at IAM and manager of its provincial eye care program, according to the Mennonite Central Committee, a relief group based in Akron, Pennsylvania.
 
"Where I was, the main thing that expats can do is to be a presence in the country," Lapp wrote in a recent report to the Mennonite group. "... Treating people with respect and with love."
 
Cheryl Beckett, the 32-year-old daughter of a Knoxville, Tennessee, pastor, had spent six years in Afghanistan and specialized in nutritional gardening and mother-child health, her family said. Beckett, who was her high school valedictorian at a Cincinnati-area high school and held a biology degree, had also spent time doing work in Honduras, Mexico, Kenya and Zimbabwe.
 
"Cheryl ... denied herself many freedoms in order to abide by Afghan law and custom," her family said.
 
The group's attackers, her family said, "should feel the utter shame and disgust that humanity feels for them."
 
Elsewhere, an American service member was killed Monday in a bomb attack in southern Afghanistan, and an Afghan child was shot dead the day before during a gunbattle between NATO forces and insurgents in Kunar province in the east, the alliance said.
 
NATO did not provide further details on the death of the American.
 
Sunday's fighting in Kunar started when militants attacked a small U.S. base in Watahpur district, according to Maj. Michael Johnson, a spokesman for the coalition.
 
Insurgents fired on the outpost and soldiers saw the rounds hit two children nearby, killing one and wounding the other, Johnson said.
 
NATO also announced that a German unmanned surveillance aircraft crashed Monday in Kunduz province. The statement said the aircraft lost altitude due to technical problems and was destroyed on impact.
 
The drone can provide battlefield imagery as well as target data.
 
Over the weekend, two U.S. Marines were killed Saturday when they tried to subdue a prisoner who was trying to escape from an undisclosed prison in southern Afghanistan, NATO said Monday. The prisoner escaped a room where he was observing prayers, acquired a rifle and started fighting Afghan and coalition forces. The inmate was shot and killed. NATO said the incident is being investigated.
 
In eastern Afghanistan, a suicide bomber approached an Afghan army base about 4 a.m. Monday in Gayan district of Paktika province. An Afghan soldier opened fire and the bomber detonated his suicide vest and died, said provincial governor spokesman Mokhlis Afghan. At the same time, six militants attacked the Gayan district compound near the base. All six were killed by Afghan soldiers, he said. No one else was hurt in the assaults.