Two Canadians, an education specialist from Montreal and an educator from B.C., were among three female aid workers shot dead along with their Afghan driver by gunmen in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday.
The other slain woman was a Trinidadian-American. All four were working for New York-based aid group the International Rescue Committee, said Abdullah Khan, the deputy counterterrorism director in Afghanistan's Logar province, southeast of Kabul.
The women were travelling to Kabul from the eastern city of Gardez when they were attacked by five gunmen armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles at about 11:30 a.m. local time, Khan said. Another Afghan worker with the organization, travelling in a second vehicle, was critically wounded, the International Rescue Committee said in a statement.
"They were working on education and children's programs. They were there unarmed, impartial [and] non-political. We are absolutely outraged," Michael Kocher, vice-president of the aid organization's international programs, told CBC News from New York.
The Taliban said it was responsible for the attack.
Jacqueline Kirk, 40, from the Montreal neighbourhood of Outremont, was one of the Canadians killed.
Kirk was born in Britain and had dual citizenship. She recently arrived in Afghanistan to provide technical assistance for the organization, Kocher said.
The other Canadian woman was Shirley Case, 31, of Williams Lake, B.C.
She had joined the organization in Afghanistan on June 8 and managed education programs designed to meet the needs of children with disabilities, the group said.
The Trinidadian-American was Nicole Dial, 32. She worked as a children's program co-ordinator for the IRC and had arrived a few months ago.
"I never believed this would happen. I still don't quite believe this has happened," said Andrew Kirk, the husband of the slain Outremont woman.
"I remember her as a really warm, caring person," he said. "She had a huge smile, and she just made a difference.
"She always connected with people's lives. Whoever she met, she would find out about them, she would. She had a huge amount of care for people," he said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed his condolences to the victims' families.
"This is obviously an outrage, a terribly brutal act which, I think, should remind everybody of the brutality of the Taliban and the dangers that everybody there faces, not just military people but all those who are there, trying to help rebuild this country," Harper told reporters in Renews, in southern Newfoundland.
Vehicle hit by bullets
Khan said the women's vehicle, a white SUV with stickers on the side of the vehicle identifying it as belonging to the aid organization, was hit by bullets.
The aid organization said as a result, it had suspended its humanitarian aid operations in Afghanistan indefinitely.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said those killed were spies and they "were not working for the interests of Afghanistan" but were instead from countries that "took Afghanistan's freedom."
This is not the first time the Taliban has targetted people who are not linked to the military, freelance reporter Jerome Starkey told CBC News on Wednesday from Kabul.
"The area is less than an hour's drive from the capital and security there has been deteriorating," he said.
Kai Eide, the UN secretary general's special representative for Afghanistan, denounced the deadly ambush as a "cowardly attack."
In Geneva, António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, condemned the killings and expressed his organization's solidarity with the IRC.
"I want to convey our deep shock and sorrow over the senseless murders of our friends and colleagues from the International Rescue Committee," Guterres said.
"I condemn the killings in the strongest possible terms," he said.
The CBC's Derek Stoffel, reporting from Kandahar, said attacks against aid workers in Afghanistan are on the increase.
"It's more proof that the security situation in Afghanistan is worsening," he said.
The Afghanistan NGO Safety Office told the Associated Press that the latest deaths bring the number of aid workers killed in militant attacks this year to at least 23, compared with 15 all of last year.
The International Rescue Committee has been working in Afghanistan for 20 years. Its website says the organization works to provide emergency relief, aid and development around the world.
In July 2007, another IRC employee was shot and killed in an attack in Logar province along with his driver. The attack was carried out by unidentified gunmen.
5 Canadian soldiers injured in Zhari district
Elsewhere on Wednesday, five Canadian soldiers were slightly injured when their armoured vehicle struck a roadside bomb.
It happened at 7:30 a.m. local time in the volatile Zhari district, west of Kandahar, a spokesman for the Canadian Forces told CBC News.
The Canadians were out on a routine sweep for roadside bombs. The five were treated for their injuries and are expected to return to duty.
Canada has about 2,500 troops deployed as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. It has lost 90 soldiers — the latest on Monday — and one diplomat since first starting its mission in Afghanistan in early 2002, shortly after a U.S.-led invasion overthrew the Taliban government.