British aid worker killed in botched Afghan rescue

9th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

A British woman aid worker in Afghanistan was killed by her captors during a botched US rescue raid two weeks after being abducted at gunpoint in the war-torn country, British officials said Saturday.

Linda Norgrove, 36, worked for US development group DAI. She and three Afghan staff were captured after their convoy was attacked in Kunar, a hotbed of Taliban activity in eastern Afghanistan bordering Pakistan.

Foreign Secretary William Hague announced her death from London, saying she was killed by her captors during a rescue attempt late Friday. He defended the operation as her "best chance" of survival.

"It is with deep sadness that I must confirm that Linda Norgrove, the British aid worker who had been held hostage in eastern Afghanistan since 26 September, was killed," Hague said.

According to an Afghan intelligence official, the rescue team was closing in on the house where Norgrove was being held when her captors threw a grenade into the room where she was kept, killing her.

The troops opened fire and killed all the captors, the official told AFP on condition of anonymity. Western aid sources said the three Afghan staff had been released unharmed last week.

"Responsibility for this tragic outcome rests squarely with the hostage takers," said Hague.

"From the moment they took her, her life was under grave threat. Given who held her, and the danger she was in, we judged that Linda's best chance lay in attempting to rescue her."

The foreign secretary did not say who carried out the operation, but a British government source said it was US forces acting as part of an international operation. The US military is responsible for security in Kunar.

US General David Petraeus, the commander of American and NATO troops in Afghanistan, expressed his condolences and said: "Afghan and coalition security forces did everything in their power to rescue Linda."

Prime Minister David Cameron said his thoughts were with Norgrove's family and that decisions on operations to free hostages were "always difficult".

"But where a British life is in such danger, and where we and our allies can act, I believe it is right to try. I pay tribute to the courage and skill of all those involved in this effort," he said.

Although suspicion immediately fell on the Taliban, a spokesman denied responsibility to AFP. Criminals and insurgents have kidnapped several dozen foreigners since the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime in Kabul.

Norgrove's death comes just weeks after British doctor Karen Woo was shot dead in northeastern Afghanistan alongside seven other foreign aid workers, in yet another sign of the deterioration in security in much of the country.

Friday's killing marks the second time in just over a year that a rescue bid to free a British hostage in Afghanistan has ended in tragedy.

In September 2009, British commandos rescued Stephen Farrell, a journalist for the New York Times, in an airborne swoop, but his Afghan colleague Sultan Munadi, a British soldier, an Afghan woman and a child were killed.

DAI, which had employed Norgrove as regional director of a US-funded aid project in the eastern town of Jalalabad since February, said it was "saddened beyond words".

The war in Afghanistan, now in its 10th year, has made increasing swathes of the country inaccessible to foreign aid workers as the Taliban step up their fight against the government and Western troops.

Norgrove was an experienced aid worker, having worked in Afghanistan for several years with the United Nations before joining DAI.

The president of the aid group, James Boomgard, said her death was "devastating news".

Born in Scotland, Norgrove was the elder of two daughters, educated locally and then at universities in Britain.

She travelled widely, spoke fluent Spanish and had spent part of her undergraduate training in the United States. She conducted research in southern Mexico and did much of the work for her PhD in Uganda.

Her first development job was with the World Wildlife Fund in Peru, before she worked for the United Nations in Kabul for three years.

After a two-year stint in Laos she returned to Afghanistan in February.

© 2010 AFP

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