Taliban victim helped 2,000 people

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A British doctor who was shot dead alongside nine colleagues while carrying out aid work in Afghanistan had given vital medical help to up to 2,000 people during the expedition, an inquest heard.

Dr Karen Woo would have died instantly as the group were fired at by insurgents as they crossed a river in a remote mountainous area on August 5 last year, the inquest in Hatfield, Hertfordshire was told.

The 36-year-old from Stevenage was due to come back to the UK shortly after the expedition to marry her fiancé Paddy Smith, a security consultant based in Afghanistan.

Hertfordshire coroner Edward Thomas recorded a verdict of unlawful killing after the hearing which was told that among those she had helped was a baby boy whose life she saved.

Dr Woo, who was specialising in providing maternal and neo-natal care on the trip, was on her third visit to Afghanistan at the time.

The group, who were on a three-week expedition to Nuristan organised by Kabul-based Christian charity the International Assistance Mission, were providing medical assistance and equipment to remote communities in areas where the infant mortality rate is particularly high and one in five children do not reach the age of one.

The coroner said: “It was quite clear that they were very well-received. People were very grateful for what they were doing.”

The group was around half-way through the trip when it was attacked.

Only one person was spared and the coroner said he had heard from third party sources that the man was captured and then released around eight hours later.

Most of the group’s property was recovered but “valuable” communications systems were taken.

“It was thought that the primary motive of the offenders was that they weren’t bandits to take property, but they were in fact killing them because of who they were,” Mr Thomas said. “All of them were killed in an area where they were helping and supporting people.

“Their reason for being there was humanitarian and all of them lost their lives trying to make the area they were in medically better.

“And I have no doubt that the people who they helped would feel devastated, as well as the family was, by the fact that the people who came to help and provide valuable medical treatment were gunned down for no other reason than the people who gunned them down were not happy they were there.”

There were no witnesses able to give evidence, but Mr Thomas gave details of what was known from a document about the expedition recovered after Dr Woo died, and from a documentary, The Life And Loss Of Karen Woo, which was made by Mr Smith and televised earlier this year. Mr Thomas said the attack remains under investigation, with the FBI leading the inquiry, since most of the victims were American.

The coroner said he had to make sure “not to prejudice what now must be the ultimate goal, which is to apprehend and prosecute those who unnecessarily destroyed the lives of these fine people”.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the killings and the area where they were attacked had no law enforcement and “the threat of Taliban insurgents is high”.

Addressing her parents, Techaun and Lynn Woo, her brother, Andrew Woo, and Mr Smith, who were all present at the hearing, Mr Thomas added: “You must all miss her dreadfully.”

Afterwards Mr Smith, 37, who was due to marry Dr Woo just two weeks after she died, said: “Karen had this sort of sparkle, which she brought to any room and anywhere she was. She had this sort of gravity – people wanted to talk to her. She was just so enthusiastic about life, she loved it.”

The other expedition members who died alongside Dr Woo were Americans Tom Little, 61, Dan Terry, 64, Thomas Grams, 51, Glen Lapp, 40, Cheryl Beckett, 32, Brian Carderelli, 25, and German Daniela Beyer, 35, and two Afghans named as Mahram Ali, 51, and Jawed, 24.