KABUL - A shooting ambush in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday killed a Japanese physician and aid worker widely respected and beloved in the war-scarred nation, triggering an outpouring of grief among the people whose lives he helped change for the better.

The leaders of Japan and Afghanistan expressed their condemnations of the attack that took the life of Tetsu Nakamura, and also killed five Afghans, including the doctor’s bodyguards, the driver and a passenger, hospital spokesman Gulzada Sanger said.

Nakamura, 73, had worked in the eastern Nangarhar province for over a decade, taking the lead in water projects in rural areas, which earned him the nickname ″Uncle Murad″ for his services to the people. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani awarded him honorary Afghan citizenship in April.

Nakamura died of his wounds shortly after gunmen opened fire on his car on Wednesday morning on a road in Nangarhar. According to the provincial governor’s spokesman, Attaullah Khogyani, Nakamura was heading to the provincial capital, Jalalabad, when the attack took place.

He was critically wounded and underwent surgery at a local hospital but died shortly after, while being airlifted to the Bagram airfield hospital in the capital, Kabul, said Sanger.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed shock at the killing.

Nakamura had headed the Japanese charity, Peace Medical Service, in Nangarhar since 2008. He came to Afghanistan after a Japanese colleague, Kazuya Ito, was abducted and killed. Nakamura was credited with changing a vast desert stretch in Nangarhar known as Gamber to lush forests and productive wheat farmlands.

The Taliban denied involvement in the attack. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted that the insurgent group “has no connection” to Wednesday’s shooting and does not consider the charity a target.