MSF Afghan maternity ward to close after deadly gun attack

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An Afghan nurse observes newborn children who lost their mothers during an attack at a hospital, in Kabul, Afghanistan, 13 May 2020Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
A nurse tends to newborn babies who lost their mothers during the gun attack at the hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan

International medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is closing its maternity ward in the Afghan capital, Kabul, following a deadly gun attack.

Twenty-four women, children and babies were killed when gunmen entered the facility and opened fire on 12 May.

MSF said it had taken the decision "with the understanding" that the victims were deliberately targeted.

The assault at the clinic prompted widespread condemnation. No group has said it carried out the attack.

On Monday, MSF said in a statement that while no information had emerged about the perpetrators or motive of the assault on the at the Dasht-e-Barchi hospital, "mothers, babies and health staff were its deliberate target and similar attacks may repeat in the future".

MSF Director General Thierry Allafort-Duverger said that while he was aware that the agency's presence carried risks, "we just couldn't believe that someone would take advantage of the absolute vulnerability of women about to give birth to exterminate them and their babies".

MSF described the move as "necessary but painful".

A spokesman for Afghanistan's health ministry, Akmal Samsor, said the decision to close the maternity ward was a serious blow, and the ministry hoped MSF would reconsider.

Warning: Some readers may find details in this story upsetting

What happened at the hospital?

Locals describe hearing two blasts then gunfire at the start of the attack at about 10:00 (05:30 GMT) on Tuesday, 12 May.

About 140 people were in the hospital at the time, one doctor who escaped told the BBC. Some of those working there were foreigners.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
The hospital was attacked in the morning by three gunmen

Three gunmen moved through the 55-bed maternity unit, which has been run by MSF since 2014.

A total of 26 mothers and mothers-to-be were inside at the time. Ten managed to flee to safe rooms; the other 16 were unable to do so.

Three of the 16 mothers were shot and killed in the delivery room, along with their unborn babies.

Afghan special forces rescued 100 women and children, including three foreigners.

The three attackers, who had reportedly gained access dressed as police officers, started a gun battle with Afghan security forces that went on for four hours. All three of the gunmen were eventually killed by security personnel.

Images from the scene showed soldiers carrying newborn babies swaddled in blood-stained blankets to safety.