KABUL, Afghanistan — A Christian charity said Monday it had no plans to leave Afghanistan despite the brutal murders last week of 10 members of its medical aid team, six of them Americans.
Police were holding the lone Afghan survivor for questioning, insisting he is not a suspect although authorities have lingering questions about his account of the horrific massacre in northern Afghanistan.
The attack, far from the main theaters of the war in the east and south, underscored the growing insecurity in the region.
It was also the biggest assault on foreign Christians since the 2007 kidnapping of 23 South Korean missionaries by the Taliban in Ghazni province. Two male hostages were slain before the South Korean government negotiated their release the following month.
The survivor of last week's attack, a driver named Saifullah who had worked for the humanitarian group for four years, was flown to Kabul on Sunday from Badakhshan province. Also taken to the capital were the bodies of the six Americans, two Afghans, a Briton and a German who were gunned down after finishing a two-week medical mission treating Afghan villagers in the remote Parun valley of Nuristan province.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the Thursday murders, alleging that the group, most of them devout Christians, were spies and tried to convert Muslims. Some local officials suspect common criminals carried out the attack.
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the FBI has opened an investigation into the deaths in cooperation with Afghan authorities.
During a press conference Monday, Dirk Frans, the director of the International Assistance Mission that organized the trip, insisted that conversion was not the aim of the trip and that the Afghan government had given them permission to treat Afghans in the area.
He said the IAM had made no secret that it was a Christian organization during its four decades in Afghanistan and was legally registered with the Afghan government.
"Our faith motivates and inspires us but we do not proselytize," he said. "We abide by the laws of Afghanistan" that make proselytizing illegal.
Frans said "as things stand right now" his organization has no plans to leave Afghanistan, having operated here during the Soviet occupation of the 1990s, the civil war of the 1990s and during five years of Taliban rule.
But Frans acknowledged that the losses left the organization "devastated."
Team leader Tom Little, 62, of Delmar, New York, and Dan Terry, 64, had worked in Afghanistan for more than 30 years and had raised families here. As a sign of the group's commitment to this country, Frans said the families of five of the eight foreigners had chosen to bury their relatives in Afghanistan.
The three other Americans were Brian Carderelli, 25, of Harrisonburg, Virginia, the videographer for the mission; Cheryl Beckett, 32, of Knoxville, Tennessee, an expert in nutritional gardening and mother-child health; Dr. Tom Grams, 51, of Durango, Colorado, a dentist; and Glen Lapp, a nurse from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Other foreigners were Dr. Karen Woo, 36, a British surgeon who was to marry in a few weeks; and Daniela Beyer, 35, a translator from Chemnitz, Germany. The two Afghans were Mahram Ali, a driver; and Jawed, a cook. Another Afghan member of the team, ophthalmological technician Saeed Yaseen, left separately before the attack.
The lone survivor of the attack, Saifullah, had worked for IAM for four years and was described as a trusted colleague. He told authorities he was spared after pleading for his life and reciting verses from the Islamic holy book, the Quran.
Gen. Mirza Mohammad Yarmand, chief of the ministry's criminal investigation division, said the driver was not considered a suspect but would probably be held for some time because he was the only witness and his presence was critical to the investigation. He refused to relate what the driver had told investigators in Kabul.
But inconsistencies have surfaced in various accounts attributed to Saifullah. It remains unclear whether this was due to incomplete accounts passed along by police officials who were getting information second- and thirdhand from local officials in the remote Kuran Wa Munjan district of Badakhshan province.
The Badakhshan police chief, Gen. Agha Noor Kemtuz, told The Associated Press that there were many unanswered questions, chiefly why the gunmen spared Saifullah but killed two other Afghans.
Saifullah was initially quoted by police as saying he began reciting the Quran because he was terrified of the gunmen and feared for his life. Later, Kemtuz said the driver told investigators that the attackers were jovial when they took him with them, walking for a few hours toward Nuristan province before they let him go.
Kemtuz said the aid group was accosted when they returned to their vehicles that they had left in a forest before beginning their trek south through the mountains to reach the isolated villages of Nuristan province.
According to Kemtuz, Saifullah provided investigators with the following account:
"Little shouted 'Who are you?' The attackers hit Little on the back of his head with a gun. He fell down and then they shot him. After that, they shot and killed Mahram and Jawed (the two Afghan). Then they killed the other foreigners."
As they walked toward Nuristan, "the attackers were very happy — even dancing and joking with each other," Kemtuz quoted Saifullah as telling officials.
The attackers, who all spoke Pashto, the language of most Taliban fighters, telephoned someone in Kabul and told him that they killed the entire team, except Saifullah.
The person in Kabul told the attackers that they should not have killed any of the Afghans. Saifullah said he then asked the attackers: "Are you going to kill me? If so, let me pray first."
Instead, the gunmen left him behind and hiked on in the direction of Barg-e-Matal district, scene of recent heavy fighting between government forces and insurgent infiltrators from Pakistan.
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 also announced that two U.S. Marines were killed Saturday when they tried to subdue a prisoner trying to escape from an undisclosed prison in southern Afghanistan. The prisoner slipped out of a room where he was praying, got hold of a rifle and opened fire before he was shot dead, NATO said.
In a Taliban-controlled area of northwest Afghanistan, a widow named Bibi Sanubar was fatally shot by militants Sunday — once in the head and once in the chest — for allegedly killing her newborn child to conceal illicit sex, Abdul Jabbar Khan, deputy police chief of Baghdis province, said Monday.
After investigating the report, the Taliban commander in the area, Mullah Yousef, ordered the woman killed, Khan said.
The international coalition issued a slightly different version of the incident, saying Sanubar was a pregnant widow, who was whipped 200 times and shot in public by a Taliban commander for alleged adultery.
Associated Press Writers Rahim Faiez, Heidi Vogt and Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.