|Afghan men unload a coffin of a Red Cross employee killed by gunmen. -Reuters|
AFGHANISTAN -- The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) suspended operations in Afghanistan on Wednesday after gunmen killed six employees helping deliver emergency relief to a remote northern region hit by heavy snow storms.
The governor of Jowzjan province said the aid convoy was attacked by suspected Islamic State gunmen. The head of the ICRC called the incident the "worst attack against us" in 20 years, but the charity said it did not know who was responsible.
A search operation was underway to find two charity workers who were still missing late on Wednesday night.
"As we speak our operations are on hold indeed, because we need to understand what exactly happened before we can hopefully resume our operations," ICRC director of operations Dominik Stillhart told Reuters in Geneva.
Afghanistan is the ICRC's fourth largest humanitarian program in the world, Stillhart said, and the attack follows a warning by the charity last month that mounting security issues made it perilous to deliver aid to large swathes of the country.
A massive snowstorm dumped as much as 6.5 feet of snow on areas of Afghanistan over the weekend, according to officials, killing more than 100 people.
Lotfullah Azizi, the Jowzjan provincial governor, said the aid workers were carrying livestock supplies to areas badly affected by the storm.
"Daesh is very active in that area," he said, using an alternative name for ISIS, which has made limited inroads in Afghanistan but has carried out increasingly deadly attacks.
The ICRC team included three drivers and five field officers. Jowzjan police chief Rahmatullah Turkistani said the workers' bodies had been taken to the provincial capital.
"These staff members were simply doing their duty, selflessly trying to h