Six Americans Murdered by the Taliban in Afghanistan

Posted: August 8, 2010 in ISLAM, NEWS

After four decades in the country he came to call home, Mr. Little, a 61-year-old optometrist originally from upstate New York, was returning from treating people in a remote valley in Nuristan Province when he was among the 10 aid workers ambushed in the woods and killed.

Another was Dr. Karen Woo, a 36-year-old surgeon from Hertfordshire, England, who specialized in women’s health. She had blogged about being a tomboy who loved “sexy dresses and high heels,” as well as her passion to help Afghan people.

Friends, relatives and colleagues remembered the two members of the ill-fated mission on Saturday as fervent humanitarians, dedicated to their cause despite their knowing its risks.

Mr. Little was the coordinator of the National Organization of Ophthalmic Rehabilitation Eye Care Program in Afghanistan, overseeing hospitals and clinics, teaching optometry and administering care in the most rural of areas.

“He consciously put his life on the line for his beliefs,” Mr. Little’s brother, John Little, 62, said in a telephone interview from Florida. “He had had so many close calls before. He wasn’t fearless, but he was at peace with danger.”

Mr. Little and Dr. Woo had been working with International Assistance Mission, which describes itself on its Web site as an “international charitable, non-profit, Christian organization, serving the people of Afghanistan.” A government inspection team had approved the group’s projects and financing in June, the Web site said.

Six Americans, a Briton, a German and four Afghans were working with the group’s mission to Nuristan at the time of the attack although the group has not confirmed that its workers were the ones attacked.

Dr. Woo, who was engaged to be married to a man who was also working in Afghanistan, was finishing a documentary about the health system in Afghanistan, and had founded the charity Bridge Afghanistan with Firuz Rahimi, a journalist for the BBC World Service.

“She wanted to go and show the life behind the violence,” Mr. Rahimi said. “She was a very kind, and a very determined person. She was somebody who wanted to make a difference.”

He first met Dr. Woo at a fashion show two years ago in London to benefit Afghan women. Although Dr. Woo was a runner and a former ballet dancer, before she left for Nuristan, she confided in Mr. Rahimi that she was concerned about the physical demands of the trip.

Mr. Little offered similar details to the congregation at Loudonville Community Church in upstate New York when making his presentation there last month.

“Tom and Libby’s heart was always dedicated to reach those who had not had access to care, and to share the hope of their faith in the process,” Pastor Mike Conley said. “But they were very careful and knew about the sensitivity of sharing their faith in that region. They expressed their faith in practical ways.”

The Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attack, accused the aid workers of proselytizing. But the group’s director, Dirk Frans, said that although the group was Christian, its policies prohibited proselytizing.

David Evans, 57, a longtime friend of the Little family, and the former director of world missions at Loudonville Community Church, said that Mr. Little was never deterred by the violence around him.

“When the eye hospital was destroyed by a rocket attack,” Mr. Evans said, recalling a time in the late 1980s or early 1990s, Mr. Little had this reaction:

“He said, ‘Let’s go out to pick up the bricks, one by one, and let’s rebuild,’ ” Mr. Evans said.

Mr. Little was known for his calm demeanor, said Mr. Evans, who accompanied Mr. Little on one mission in Afghanistan. “Tom was very patient in dealing with people,” he said. “We dealt with government officials, and day after day we would have cups of tea to get where he wanted to get to provide for the poor.”


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