IS militants murder Red Cross workers in Afghanistan
Six Red Cross employees delivering relief supplies in snowbound northern Afghanistan on Wednesday have been murdered by Islamic State group militants, officials have said, while two other workers are missing.
The incident took place in the volatile province of Jowzjan, the international charity said, and involved a Red Cross convoy - comprising three drivers and five field officers.
It came under attack while they were carrying relief supplies to a restive area badly affected in recent days by heavy snowfall.
"This is a despicable act," said Monica Zanarelli, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan.
"Nothing can justify the murder of our colleagues and dear friends."
ICRC President Peter Maurer denounced the killings as a "huge tragedy", saying it appeared to be a deliberate attack on the charity's staff.
Jowzjan police chief Rahmatullah Turkistani confirmed AFP that IS militants had murdered the workers.
"Daesh [IS] fighters are active in the area," he said, using the Arabic acronym by which IS is commonly known in the area.
"We had previously repeatedly warned them not to go to such dangerous areas under Daesh [IS] control."
Turkistani said the bodies of the six workers had been brought to a provincial hospital.
Some of the bodies had multiple bullet wounds and had been shot from close range in the head and chest, Fraidoon Habib, director of the hospital, told AFP.
The killings come after a Spanish employee of the ICRC was abducted on 19 December when workers from the charity were travelling between the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and the neighbouring volatile Taliban hotbed of Kunduz.
He was released nearly a month later, but ICRC and local officials did not say how he was freed or who was behind the abduction.
The ICRC, which has been operating in Afghanistan for decades, did not say how the latest incident would impact them.
"At this point, it's premature for us to determine the impact of this appalling incident on our operations in Afghanistan," Zanarelli said.
"We want to collect ourselves as a team and support each other in processing this incomprehensible act and finding our two unaccounted for colleagues."
Aid workers in Afghanistan have increasingly become casualties of a surge in militant violence in recent years.
In April 2015 the bullet-riddled bodies of five Afghan workers for Save the Children were found after they were abducted in the strife-torn southern province of Uruzgan.