A man passes the international guesthouse run by a Swedish-based charity in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul where on Saturday evening a German aid worker and an Afghan were killed and a Finnish aid worker apparently was kidnapped.

A German woman and her Afghan guard were killed, and a Finnish woman apparently kidnapped, at an international guesthouse run by a Swedish-based charity in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul late on Saturday evening, 20 May.

The two women were aid workers employed by Operation Mercy, a relief and development NGO which has over 300 staff worldwide. Their names are still being withheld at the time of publication. The guard, who was beheaded, was employed directly by the residents of the compound, not by the aid agency.

The German woman had been working in Afghanistan for 13 years (with Operation Mercy since 2011) and headed a literacy project. Her Finnish colleague was studying Dari (Afghan version of Persian), preparing for a first assignment. “Both were experienced and had a deep desire to serve the people of Afghanistan”, said the organization in a statement. It said its other staff members were not affected and were not aware of the incident as it unfolded.

Operation Mercy says it is doing all it can to support the investigation and to support the families while their “primary goal at this time remains the safe return of our Finnish colleague and the safety and support of our staff in-country.”

The Finnish foreign ministry together with the Afghanistan National Directorate of Security has launched an investigation and in a statement it urged “the immediate release of the kidnapped person”.

No group has claimed responsibility so far. The perpetrators seem, so guesthouse neighbours told the German broadcaster ZDF, to have slipped quietly into the guesthouse premises. Operation Mercy said they had broken into the women’s residence.

Spokesman for the Afghan interior ministry Najib Danish said that the exact motives of the attackers are still unclear: “We can’t say whether the incident has a criminal or terrorist background but an investigation is on the way.”

‘Very high and constant threat’

The incident again puts the spotlight on security in the country. In May the German relief agency GIZ announced it would close 6 of its 7 offices and residential premises in Kabul and has moved into a heavily secured compound on the city’s outskirts.

Kabul is plagued by criminal gangs who stage abductions for ransom, often targeting foreigners and wealthy locals, and sometimes handing them over to insurgent groups like the Taliban.

Since the withdrawal of most international troops from Afghanistan in 2014, militant groups such as the Taliban have become more active in waging ‘jihad’ against the government and Western agencies and organizations, using kidnapping as one of its tools.

In 2014 alone World Watch Monitor reported two incidents where foreign workers were killed, involving three South African and two Finnish citizens.

According to the British government about 100 Westerners have been kidnapped since 2001 and it warns there is “a very high and constant threat” of abduction.

Spring offensive

Although the kidnap of foreigners has been on the rise, the threat of abductions is even greater for Afghans. According to the country’s Chamber of Commerce and Industries, at least 80 businessmen were kidnapped in 2016 alone, reports the BBC.

This also applies to the murder rates. In a separate attack on the same day, Saturday, Taliban militants killed 20 Afghan police officers at checkpoints in southern Afghanistan, and at least 10 others were injured in the ambushes.

On 28 April the Taliban announced the start of its spring offensive, announcing “a mix of conventional, guerrilla and suicide attacks on Afghan and foreign forces”, but it said it would minimize civilian casualties.