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S Asia International Assistance Mission Massacre: 10 Civilian Volunteers Killed In Afghanistan


Jun 1, 2004
KABUL, Afghanistan — One gave up a lucrative practice to give free dental care to children who had never seen a toothbrush. Others had devoted whole decades of their lives to helping the Afghan people through war and deprivation.

The years of service ended in a hail of bullets in a remote valley of a land that members of the medical team had learned to love.

The bodies of the 10 slain volunteers - six Americans, two Afghans, a German and a Briton - were flown Sunday back to Kabul by helicopter, even as friends and family bitterly rejected Taliban claims the group had tried to convert Afghans to Christianity.

Also flown to the capital was 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 International Assistance Mission, which organized the trip, 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, claimed by the Taliban.

"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."

The group had spent two weeks treating villagers in a remote valley in northern Afghanistan for eye diseases and other ailments before being ambushed by extremists on their way back to Kabul.

Neither the Afghan government nor foreign embassies formally released the victims' names Sunday. Family and friends, however, came forward with words of praise and sorrow.

Team leader Tom Little, an optometrist from Delmar, New York, had been working in Afghanistan for more than 30 years. He and his wife, Libby, reared three daughters in Kabul, sticking it out through the Soviet invasion of the 1980s, and the vicious civil war of the 1990s, when Afghan warlords rained rockets on the city.

They were briefly expelled with other Western aid workers in August 2001 but returned after the Taliban were ousted from power three months later. Little supervised a string of hospitals and clinics offering treatment for eye diseases.

"He was part and parcel of that culture," said David Evans of the Loudonville Community Church, New York, who had worked with him to deliver aid.

Dan Terry, 64, was another long Afghan veteran. A fluent Dari language speaker like his friend Little, Terry first came to Afghanistan in 1971 and returned to live here in 1980 with his wife, rearing three daughters while working with impoverished ethnic groups.

"He was a large, lumbering man - very simply a joyful man," said his longtime friend Michael Semple, a former European Union official in Kabul. "He had no pretensions, lots of humility."

In a Web posting, a friend, Kate Clark, recalled that in 2000, Terry was hauled off to jail by the Taliban for overstaying a visa.

"He went off good-naturedly, seeing it as a rare chance to have the time to learn Pashto," Clark wrote on a website. "He was released from prison after a couple of weeks and then re-arrested after the authorities decided he had not served enough days. He arrived back to the prison to cheers from his fellow inmates, who were now newly found friends."

Others had made financial sacrifices.

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, said Katy Shaw of Global Dental Relief, a group based in Denver that sends teams of dentists around the globe.

Grams' twin brother, Tim, said his brother 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."

Tim Grams said his brother started traveling with relief organizations to Afghanistan, Nepal, Guatemala and India in the early part of the decade. After he sold his practice, he started going several months at a time.

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."

Another victim, 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."


Reid reported from Kabul and Wyatt from Denver. Associated Press writers Ron Todt in Philadelphia, Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Kentucky, Phuong Le in Seattle, Kathy Gannon in Islamabad and Deb Riechmann, Rahim Faiez and Heidi Vogt in Kabul contributed to this report.


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Sep 27, 2008
This is just sick and so sad, what a pathetic excuse by the Taliban to say they were converting Afghans, does that give them the right to kill these aid workers ?. Excuse after excuse it sounds to me. My best wishes to their dear families back home. Seems like thats the thankyou you get for doing Seva. No excuse at all will justify these killings in my opinion.

Tejwant Singh

Jun 30, 2004
Henderson, NV.
Until the Muslims come to the realisation that the enemy is within, the bloodshed of innocent people will continue, not only of the fellow Muslims but also of those who are there to help. These 10 people were Sikhs from all aspects although they were Christians. Nishkaam seva- selfless service was in their DNA.

Tom Little, the eye doctor was a giant despite his last name. He had been there for 30 years. He raised his daughters there and went out of town, as they say to help the helpless.

The positive changes will not happen in a short period of time due to the Islamic culture of haves and have nots. A few have the power and they impose it onto others.

Democracy, which breeds freedom is against Islam. Be-headings, punishments of the innocent with lashing and the repression of women is not uncommon which is sad and tragic in this day and age.

My personal view is for us to leave Iraq and Afghanistan, stop any aid to Pakistan and let the chips fall where they may. Let them sort themselves out. Perhaps when we leave then other Muslim countries will feel threatened by their own ilk and start doing something about it.

In the meantime, let's urge all the Gurdwaras to add these people in the Ardaas. After all, this is what sarbat da bhala- wellness of all humanity in Sikhi is all about.

Tejwant Singh



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