Tributes paid to Dr Karen Woo killed in Afghan ambush

Media caption,
Fiance Paddy Smith told the BBC's Quentin Sommerville: "There are so many different things I will miss about her"

Tributes have been paid by the family and fiance of a British doctor who was shot dead along with nine colleagues on an aid mission in Afghanistan.

Dr Karen Woo, 36, from London was called a "true hero" by her family and "loving and caring" by her fiance.

Afghan police say those who died were victims of an armed robbery. One of the aid convoy's drivers has been detained.

Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary William Hague said the killings were "a deplorable and cowardly act".

Dr Woo, was working with a Christian charity, providing healthcare in remote villages in the north-east of Afghanistan.

In a statement, the dead surgeon's family denied Taliban claims she was preaching Christianity to Muslims and spying. The Taliban had earlier said it was behind the attack.

Dr Woo's family said: "Her motivation was purely humanitarian. She was a humanist and had no religious or political agenda.

"Her commitment was to make whatever difference she could. She was a true hero, whilst scared, she never let that prevent her from doing things she had to do.

"She would not want this tragedy to overshadow the ongoing plight of those still in the greatest of need," the statement said.

The surgeon was due to marry her fiance, Mark "Paddy" Smith, in London on 20 August.

In an emotional interview from Kabul where he works for a security firm, Mr Smith described the dead woman as an "extraordinary person".

Dr Woo had trained first as a dancer, model and even been a wing walker on stunt planes before retraining as a doctor and surgeon in her 20s.

Mr Smith told the BBC: "If you look at her life she was an incredible human being. You don't find too many people like Karen Woo in this world

"It is such a loss to the people of Afghanistan that someone that cared so much has gone.

"There are so many different things I will miss about her. Her love for life.

"Anyone who met her couldn't help but smile. She made people happy. She helped people wherever she could. She made time for people. If people needed assistance she would always be there. She could never say no, sometimes to the detriment of what she was doing.

"She was somebody you could rely on. She never let you down."

Dr Woo's body was discovered on Friday in the north-eastern province of Badakhshan along with those of six Americans, a German and two Afghan interpreters who worked with her.

The group had been travelling to provide eye care in the region. Their bodies have now been flown back to Kabul for formal identification.

Team leader Tom Little, an optometrist from Delmar, New York, was among the dead. He had been working in Afghanistan for about 30 years.

He had supervised a network of eye hospitals and clinics around the country largely funded through private donations to the International Assistance Mission (IAM).

Image caption,
Optometrist Tom Little was one of those killed in the ambush

Mr Little's friend, David Evans, of the Loudonville Community Church, New York, paid tribute to him.

"He was a remarkable man, and very committed to helping the people of Afghanistan. They raised their three girls there. He was part and parcel of that culture," said Mr Evans.

The bodies of the 10 victims were found on Friday near three four-wheeled drive vehicles in the Kuran Wa Munjan district of Badakhshan.

An IAM spokesman said the team had spent the past two-and-a-half weeks working in the neighbouring province of Nuristan.

Badakhshan, a mainly ethnic Tajik region bordering Tajikistan, is one of the few Afghan provinces not to have been controlled by the Taliban before the US-led invasion of 2001.

The BBC's Quentin Sommerville said it has long been regarded as a safe area, although locals have complained about the growing threat from insurgents.

He said Dr Woo's convoy had taken a circuitous route to avoid the dangerous regions and had armed guards until they reached Badakhshan's borders, but let them go because they thought it was safe.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed the group were found in possession of bibles translated into Dari and had been killed because they were Christian missionaries.

Dr Woo, from London, is not the first western aid worker to to be killed in Afghanistan. In October 2008, Gayle Williams, a dual British and South African citizen, was killed by two gunmen as she walked to work in the capital, Kabul.

IAM's executive director Dirk Frans said the group was in shock over the deaths.

He called the Taliban's assertion "very strange" adding that unusually, it took the group two days to make the statement instead of claiming responsibility straight away.

He told the BBC: "We are Christians but we work under the laws of Afghanistan and those laws do not allow us to proselytise.

"The chief of police said it was basically robbery because nothing of value was left on the bodies. They are not missionaries."

He added that the group had no intention of withdrawing from the country where it had worked for more than 40 years.

"The situation now is not paradise but some staff say it is not as bad as the early 90s."

Ahead of the trip on which she was killed, Dr Woo had written a letter to likely benefactors, telling of the expedition's aims.

She wrote in the letter: "The trek will not be easy; it will take three weeks and be done on foot and with packhorses - no vehicles can access the mountainous terrain.

"The expedition will require a lot of physical and mental resolve and will not be without risk but, ultimately, I believe that the provision of medical treatment is of fundamental importance and that the effort is worth it in order to assist those that need it most."

Dr Woo had left her job working with Bupa in the UK to work in Afghanistan and had been creating a documentary about her aid efforts.

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