Police in the Helmand province of Afghanistan have arrested three Italian aid workers for allegedly plotting to assassinate the provincial governor.
The Italians were seized during a raid on a hospital run by Italian NGO ‘Emergency’ in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. Six Afghan colleagues were also arrested.
Government officials claimed the arrested workers were in league with the Taliban and planned to murder Helmand's governor, Gulab Mangal, on a future visit to the hospital.
Police and secret-service agents acting on a tip-off said they recovered suicide vests, hand grenades, pistols and explosives from a storeroom. Under questioning, a hospital janitor implicated others at the hospital, who in turn pointed to the Italians.
The 200-bed hospital is situated a few hundred metres down the road from the governor's compound and has attracted criticism in the past for treating war-wounded patients.
“The plan was to carry out two attacks in Lashkar Gah, either in a densely populated area or at a picnic site in the outskirts of the city which would of course inflict heavy casualties,” Mr Mangal, who has survived four assassination attempts, claimed. As casualties streamed into the hospital, the plotters were going to detonate a second bomb inside, he said.
As details of the arrest emerged, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets chanting: “Death to Emergency. “ However, the arrests drew a sharp rebuke from the charity's leadership in Milan.
Its director, Gino Strada,attacked provincial officials for fabricating the allegations.
“They want to get rid of a troublesome witness,” Mr Strada said. “Until recently we managed to treat the wounded because international conventions were respected. Today this is no longer possible.
“Who with a grain of salt in his head could think that an Italian doctor would go to Afghanistan to blow up the governor of a province? It all seems grotesque to me.”