Afghan police arrest two suspects linked to murder of seven polio vaccinators

Afghan police arrest two suspects linked to murder of seven polio vaccinators
Police in Afghanistan have arrested two suspects over the murder of seven polio vaccinators last month.
2 min read
Afghanistan is one of the last remaining countries in the world to still have cases of polio within its borders [source: Getty]

Two suspects have been arrested in Afghanistan in connection with the killing of seven polio vaccinators last month, police said on Saturday, putting the blame on a group opposed to Taliban rule.

The health workers were killed in separate attacks in the northern province of Kunduz while working in a house-to-house campaign to eradicate the crippling virus.

"The arrested men have confessed to their crime and said they shot the polio vaccinators after receiving orders from their leaders from the Resistance Front in the province," Kunduz police spokesman Qari Obaidullah Abedi told AFP.

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The National Resistance Front (NRF) is led by the son of legendary late anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.

The group's fighters were the last to hold out against the Taliban takeover last year, retreating to the Panjshir Valley, which eventually fell in September, weeks after the former government forces capitulated.

The scenic Panjshir Valley is famed as the site of resistance to Soviet forces in the 1980s and the Taliban in the late 1990s, during the hardliners' first stint in power.

Its most revered figure is Massoud, known as the "Lion of Panjshir", who was assassinated by Al-Qaeda in 2001, two days before the September 11 attacks.

His son Ahmad Massoud has since picked up the mantle, and reports have surfaced of his apparent efforts to organise a resistance with other exiled Afghan leaders.

The Kunduz police spokesman said the two arrested men had also confessed that "they were paid" for murdering the vaccinators.

On February 24, a total of eight polio vaccinators had been killed - seven in Kunduz and one in the neighbouring province of Takhar.

The National Resistance Front was not available for immediate comment on the police statement.

Polio teams in Afghanistan had been frequently targeted by insurgent groups until the Taliban's takeover of the country in August.

Since then, the hardline Islamists have said they want to work with the United Nations to stamp out the disease.

In the past, polio vaccination campaigns in Afghanistan - and neighbouring Pakistan - were accused of being fronts for spying, while some clerics said the vaccine was a conspiracy to sterilise Muslims.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only two countries in the world where polio has not been eradicated.