KABUL, Afghanistan – Insurgents shot and killed 12 civilians in two separate incidents over the weekend, including six aid workers employed on government projects, officials said Tuesday.
The bodies of six victims were found in the Gulran district of western Herat province, said Jamel Danish, media adviser for the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation.
Five were Afghan employees of the International Rescue Committee who had been kidnapped on Sunday, and the U.S-based group said it was temporarily suspending operations. It has worked in Afghanistan since 1988. The sixth victim worked for the ministry.
"The IRC is devastated and grief-stricken by the deaths of our colleagues who were all working to make a better Afghanistan," IRC president George Rupp said in a statement.
President Hamid Karzai and the United Nations office in Afghanistan also condemned the killings, which the U.N. said could be classified as a war crime. The Taliban regularly target government employees.
Danish said the six were kidnapped by the Taliban and killed after negotiations to free them failed. His ministry with help from international groups seeks to improve the lives of Afghans in remote parts of the country.
Rohullah Samon, spokesman for eastern Paktia province, said six unidentified civilians were also found Tuesday by a roadside. He had no other details.
In Kabul, a suicide bomber riding a bicycle was killed when his explosive went off prematurely, wounding a passerby, said Kabul deputy police chief Gen Mohammad Daoud Amin. He said it was unclear what the intended target of the bomber was in the area of downtown Kabul where the explosion took place.
Violence in Afghanistan has increased in recent months as insurgents fight to regain territory, trying to take advantage of the handover of the country's security from the NATO-led coalition to Afghan forces ahead of the withdrawal of all foreign combat forces at the end of 2014.
Civilian casualties have spiked this spring and summer. The U.N. said in its mid-year report that casualties were up 23 percent compared to the first six months of 2012.