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Dead aid workers knew risks but loved Afghanistan

By the CNN Wire Staff
Libby and Tom Little in a 2001 photo. Libby Little said her husband was deeply devoted to the Afghan people.
Libby and Tom Little in a 2001 photo. Libby Little said her husband was deeply devoted to the Afghan people.
  • NEW: Two aid workers are identified by their friends and family
  • NEW: They say aid workers knew risks but were devoted to Afghanistan
  • Afghan police: 10 members of medical team killed in Badakhshan
  • The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the killings

Read more at the website of CNN affiliate WTEN.

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Two aid workers killed in Afghanistan had a deep commitment to the country, and knew the risks associated with humanitarian work there, friends and family of the victims' said Saturday.

The aid workers were said to be among 10 members of a medical team who were shot and killed Thursday by gunmen in Badakhshan, a remote northeastern region of the country.

Among the dead were six Americans, two Afghans, a Briton and a German, said Dirk Frans, director of International Assistance Mission. He said two other Afghans on the team are alive.

Aqa Nwor Kentoz, the police chief in the province, says the gunmen stopped the group on the road, took their belongings and shot them one by one. An Afghan was released because he was reciting excerpts from the Quran, Kentoz said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Libby Little, the wife of team leader Tom Little, confirmed to CNN that her husband was among the six Americans killed.

Speaking from her home in Delmar, New York, Little said she knew the worst had happened when she didn't hear from her husband after 24 hours. She described a system they established years ago -- he would give her a short, 30-second call every 12 hours to let her know he was OK. When two cycles went by without a call from her husband, she said she knew something was wrong.

Frans would not confirm Little's death, only acknowledging Little was the leader of the medical team.

Libby Little described her husband as deeply devoted to the Afghan people -- a feeling shared by another member of the team, British citizen Dr. Karen Woo, who also was believed to have been killed in the attack.

Woo's friend, Firuz Rahimi, confirmed her death to CNN and said his friend gave up a comfortable life in London to work in Afghanistan.

Rahimi said he spoke with Woo three weeks ago, while she was packing for a trip with IAM to Nuristan. He told CNN that Woo had medicine and medical equipment procured after a period of fundraising. Woo was excited about the trip but was fully aware of the risks she faced making this kind of journey, he said.

Libby Little said her husband was also intimately aware of the risks. She described Tom Little as very familiar with the area where he was killed and had been working in the country for 30 years.

Libby Little said she doesn't, however, know exactly what happened on the remote road in Badakhshan province. She told CNN affiliate WTEN that no one she has spoken to is sure, either.

Fighting back tears, Little said the area is so remote that no one has been able to get to the scene to investigate. She said local villagers saw the aftermath and traveled to a larger population center to let authorities know.

Her account couldn't be immediately verified by CNN.

Badakhshan, bordered by Tajikistan to the north and Pakistan to the south, is a sparsely populated region comprised of a majority Tajik population and an Uzbek and Kyrgyz minority. Badakhshan was the only province that was not controlled by the Taliban when it ruled Afghanistan.

IAM's website said an eye-care team had been in Nuristan province "at the invitation of communities there. After having completed their medical work the team was returning to Kabul."

Little told WTN that her husband had a "rare opportunity" to get to a remote camp involved with eye care. The group was actually assisting three medical camps, she said. Tom Little was helping train people to do work at the camps, according to his wife.

Hans Ronnlund, the assistant to the executive director of the mission group, denied statements by the Taliban that the medical staff was carrying Bibles. Ronnlund said the International Assistance Mission is a humanitarian development organization formed by various Christian groups, but said medical staffers do not carry Bibles.

"We cannot understand how they can say that," he said.

Video: 6 U.S. aid workers killed in Afghanistan

Libby Little was similarly insistent that IAM was not a missionary group. She said that IAM is a Christian group, but that it focuses on providing services such as teaching English or providing medical care. She noted that IAM was invited by the Afghan government and points out that its workers received visas allowing them entrance to the country.

Little said she had 40 "wonderful years" with her husband and that he "had a rich life serving the Afghan people," adding that "his work was done. That's a good thing for anybody."

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, in the southern Helmand province, international and Afghan forces killed 14 insurgents in an exchange of fire, said NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). In a separate bombing incident, two Afghans were killed and five others wounded near Heyderabad, in Helmand province.

Also Saturday, ISAF reported the deaths of two international service members in a bombing in southern Afghanistan. Their nationalities were not yet disclosed.

CNN's Samson Desta, Jill Dougherty, Matiullah Mati and Ross Levitt contributed to this report.