Murder of German Aid Worker in Afghanistan Risking Life and Limb to Help

The murder of a German aid worker in Afghanistan last week was a wake-up call for a number of organizations operating in the region. But despite the dangers, they have decided to stay.


Afghan workers builiding a school in the province of Sar-i-pul, one of the projects funded by Welthungerhilfe.

Afghan workers builiding a school in the province of Sar-i-pul, one of the projects funded by Welthungerhilfe.

It wasn't the first time that experienced development aid worker Dieter Rübling, from the southern German town of Weikersheim, had been attacked. "Aside from a few cuts that were bleeding heavily, he was not seriously injured. An examination of the vehicle showed that at least 15 shots were fired," read a report of an earlier dust up.

But last Thursday, the 65-year-old construction engineer was gunned down while he was working for German aid organization Welthungerhilfe (WHH) -- also called German Agro Action -- in Sar-i-pul in northern Afghanistan. It was a region that had been considered completely peaceful until then.

Rübling and four Afghan companions were returning from a visit to a construction site in a village 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Saripul when their two vehicles were stopped in a hollow. Two armed, masked men pulled out the five passengers, took away their money and mobile phones and drove them up a hillside. The Afghans were reprimanded for working with "Kuffar," or infidels, and were then released. They heard gunshots a short time later. It was 12:30 p.m. local time.

The details of the murder suggest that it was politically motivated. Had it been an ordinary robbery, the armed men would likely either have released all of their victims and stolen the cars or killed the entire group to cover their tracks. The attackers may have known the route and identities of the travelers. The aid workers were traveling in two rented cars and were therefore not immediately recognizable as members of an international organization. "We assume that this was an ideologically motivated crime," said Hans-Joachim Preuss, the secretary general of WHH.

Welthungerhilfe's mission in Afghanistan currently includes 25 skilled workers, most of them German, and about 600 Afghans. The murder is the first targeted act of violence against a German development worker since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.

Although Rübling's murder comes as a shock to other local aid workers, they agree that withdrawing would send the wrong signal, partly because it could encourage the murderers. "Show your face, show your flag and get out," advises Reinhard Erös of Kinderhilfe Afghanistan, a German aid organization headquartered in Bavaria. Erös, who already worked in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation, is part of a successful effort to build schools in the country's Pashtun east. Sybille Schnehage, head of the aid organization Katachel e.V., which has already drilled more than 1,000 wells in Kunduz Province, also plans to stay. "You have to expect this sort of thing here. I always take four cars whenever I go anyplace," says Schnehage, a native of the north central German city of Wolfsburg.

In response to the murder of one its own, Welthungerhilfe summoned its staff to the Afghan capital, Kabul, for a meeting to discuss the situation. Nevertheless, the organization has already made its decision: "We will continue our work here."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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