Taliban assailants on a motorbike gunned down a Christian aid worker in Kabul on Monday. Militants said she was killed for spreading her religion.
Gayle Williams, a 34-year-old dual British-South African national who helped disabled Afghans, was shot to death while walking to work about 8 a.m., said Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary.
A spokesman for the militants said the Taliban ordered her killed because she was accused of proselytizing.
“This woman came to Afghanistan to teach Christianity to the people of Afghanistan,” Zabiullah Mujahid said. “Our (leaders) issued a decree to kill this woman.”
Britain's secretary of state for international development, Douglas Alexander, called the killing a “callous and cowardly act” and said Williams was in Afghanistan to help ease poverty. “To present her killing as a religious act is as despicable as it is absurd – it was cold- blooded murder,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the aid group, SERVE – Serving Emergency Relief and Vocational Enterprises – said it is a Christian organization but denied it was involved in proselytizing. “It's not the case that they preach, not at all,” Rina van der Ende said.
Afghanistan is a conservative Islamic nation. Proselytizing is prohibited by law, and other Christian missionaries or charities have faced severe hostility. Last year, 23 South Korean aid workers from a church group were taken hostage in Afghanistan. Two were killed; the rest were eventually released.
According to its Web site, SERVE is a Christian charity registered in Britain and has been working with Afghan refugees since 1980 in Pakistan.
Monday's attack adds to a growing sense of insecurity in Kabul. The city is now blanketed with police checkpoints, and embassies, military bases and the U.N. are erecting cement barriers to guard against suicide bombings.
Kidnappings targeting wealthy Afghans have long been a problem in Kabul, but attacks against Westerners have grown recently. In mid-August, Taliban militants killed three women working for the U.S. aid group International Rescue Committee while they were driving in Logar, a province south of Kabul.
Elsewhere, a suicide bomber killed two German soldiers and five children in Kunduz province to the north, said Mohammad Omar, the provincial governor. NATO confirmed some of its soldiers were killed or wounded in the attack.
Militants have expanded their traditional bases in the country's south and east and have gained territory in the provinces surrounding Kabul. Those advances are part of the reason that top U.S. military officials have warned the international mission to defeat the Taliban is in peril.