Image: Gayle Williams
Aid worker Gayle Williams was a 34-year-old dual British-South African national who helped handicapped Afghans.
updated 10/20/2008 4:39:01 PM ET 2008-10-20T20:39:01

Taliban assailants on a motorbike gunned down a Christian aid worker in Kabul on Monday and the militants said she was killed for spreading her religion — a rare targeted killing of a Westerner in the nation's capital.

Gayle Williams, a 34-year-old dual British-South African national who helped handicapped Afghans, was shot to death as she was 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 told The Associated Press. "Our (leaders) issued a decree to kill this woman."

Britain's secretary of state for international development 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," Douglas Alexander said in a statement.

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.

Group denies preaching
"It's not the case that they preach, not at all," said the spokeswoman, Rina van der Ende. "They are here to do NGO (aid) work."

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 southern Afghanistan. Two were killed and 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.

"SERVE Afghanistan's purpose is to express God's love and bring hope by serving the people of Afghanistan, especially the needy, as we seek to address personal, social and environmental needs," the site says.

A member of Afghanistan's highest religious council said Monday that rumors have spread over the last two years that Westerners have been preaching Christianity to Afghans.

"We have heard rumors that houses have been rented to preach Christianity in Kabul and some provinces, but we have no evidence that this is taking place," said council member Jebra Ali. The council previously has made a formal complaint to President Hamid Karzai that Westerners are trying to spread Christianity in Afghanistan.

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.

Germans, children killed
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, 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.

Omar said the soldiers were patrolling on foot when the bomber riding a bicycle hit them. Northern Afghanistan has been spared much of the violence afflicting Afghanistan's eastern and southern provinces.

West of Kabul, meanwhile, assault helicopters dropped NATO troops into Jalrez district in Wardak province on Thursday, sparking a two-day battle involving airstrikes, the military alliance said in a statement Monday.

More than 20 militants were killed, NATO said.

Wardak province, just 40 miles west of Kabul, has become an insurgent stronghold. Militants have expanded their traditional bases in the country's south and east — along the border with Pakistan — and have gained territory in the provinces surrounding Kabul, a worrying development for Afghan and NATO troops.

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, and why NATO generals have called for a sharp increase in the number of troops.

Some 65,000 international troops now operate in Afghanistan, including about 32,000 Americans.

Allies' political will questioned
Speaking in London on Monday, Gen. John Craddock, the head of U.S. European Command and NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe, called into question the political will among alliance members for the mission in Afghanistan.

Commanders have called for more NATO troops to be deployed in the violent south, but some NATO members have refused to move their troops from more peaceful parts of the country and have imposed restrictions on the duties their forces can carry out.

"It is this wavering political will that impedes operational progress and brings into question the relevance of the alliance here in the 21st century," Craddock told the Royal United Services Institute, a military think tank.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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