Six people, including Japanese doctor Tetsu Nakamura, known for his years of aid work in South Asian regions, were killed in a shooting in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, local and Japanese government officials said.
Nakamura, a 73-year-old representative of the Peshawar-kai aid group based in the southwestern Japan city of Fukuoka, and five others, including his bodyguard, were killed as armed men attacked their vehicle in Jalalabad in the eastern province of Nangarhar, the officials said.
Nakamura, recipient of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2003 for his long-standing contributions to the region, died while being transported from a hospital in Jalalabad to the U.S. Bagram Airfield base, north of the country's capital Kabul, to receive further treatment, according to a Nangarhar official.
He was shot twice in the chest, according to the head of the hospital. Nakamura was conscious after the attack and received treatment at the hospital in Jalalabad, the Japanese aid group said.
The group said Nakamura and the others were on their way to a site for irrigation work 25 kilometers away from his lodgings. According to witnesses, two suspicious vehicles ambushed the vehicle with the six aboard and armed men opened fire from both sides of the road at around 8 a.m. local time.
The people killed in the attack included a 33-year-old Afghan driver, the aid group said, but details about the others were not immediately available.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack so far, with the anti-government Taliban militant group denying involvement.
In a tweet on the group's official Twitter account, the spokesman wrote, the "Attack on (a) Japanese national...has no connection" with the Taliban. "NGOs operating in (the) reconstruction field have good relations" with them and "none are military targets."
(Peshawar-kai officials speak to the media in Fukuoka.)
Armed anti-government groups, including the Taliban and the Islamic State, operate in the province.
Mitsuji Fukumoto, a Peshawar-kai spokesman, told a press conference in Fukuoka the group has "no idea" who carried out the attack.
He also said, "There is no way" that the aid group will abandon the irrigation improvement project in Afghanistan to which Nakamura had long devoted himself to fight malnutrition, a problem he found to be the root cause of illness in the region.
"I'm filled with sadness. I'm disappointed. I was praying that a day like today would never come," Nakamura's wife Naoko told reporters at her home in Omuta, Fukuoka Prefecture.
Knowing that he could be caught up in violence in Afghanistan, she did not want her husband to work far away from home, but he was very devoted, she said.
(Supplied file photo shows the car Japanese doctor Tetsu Nakamura was using.)
[Photo courtesy of Peshawar-kai]
"I am extremely shocked that he passed away in such a way," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters, adding, "He had made significant achievements at the risk of his life."
A senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official said information about the incident and Nakamura's death were provided by the local provincial government to the Japanese embassy.
Nakamura had been providing medical aid near the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan for years. He was also involved in the construction of irrigation channels and tree-planting activities after a drought hit Afghanistan in 2000.
(Nakamura in eastern Afghanistan, June 2008)
Recognizing his contributions, the Afghan government commended Nakamura last year and he received honorary citizenship from the country in October.
In August 2008, a Japanese member of the Peshawar-kai was found dead after being abducted by an armed group in the Afghan village of Bodyalai, near Jalalabad.