KABUL, Afghanistan – Taliban gunmen on a motorbike killed a Christian aid worker in the Afghan capital on Monday, and the militant group said it had targeted the woman because she was proselytizing.
The woman, a British national, worked with handicapped Afghans and was killed in the western part of Kabul as she was walking alone around 8 a.m., police said. Najib Samsoor, a district police chief, originally said the woman was from South Africa, but the British government later said she was British.
The gunmen shot the victim in the body and leg with a pistol, said Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary. Officials did not release her name.
Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the slaying, saying the woman was killed because she was spreading Christianity.
"This woman came to Afghanistan to teach Christianity to people of Afghanistan," Mujahid told the Associated Press. "Our (leaders) issued a decree to kill this woman. This morning our people killed her in Kabul."
The woman's organization — SERVE, Serving Emergency Relief and Vocational Enterprises — describes itself as a Christian charity registered in Britain. The group's Web page says the charity 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," SERVE's Web page says.
Afghanistan is a conservative Islamic nation and has little tolerance for outside religious interference. Proselytizing is prohibited by law, and other Christian missionaries or charities have faced severe hostilities.
Last summer a group of 23 South Korean aid workers from a church group were taken hostage in southern Afghanistan. Two were killed and the rest were released.
In 2001, eight international aid workers, including two Americans, were imprisoned and charged with preaching Christianity. The eight were freed by Afghan mujahedeen fighters attacking the Taliban after the U.S.-led invasion.
In 2006, an Afghan man who converted from Islam to Christianity was sentenced to death by an Afghan court. Following an international outcry Afghan authorities declared the man insane and he was granted asylum in Italy, where he now lives.
Monday's attack adds to a growing sense of insecurity in Kabul. The capital is now blanketed in police checkpoints. Embassies, military bases and the U.N. are erecting cement wall barriers to guard against suicide bombings.
Kidnappings targeting wealthy Afghans have long been a problem in Kabul, but attacks against Westerners in the city and surrounding provinces have also increased 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.
Meanwhile, assault helicopters dropped NATO troops into Jalrez district of Wardak province on Thursday, leading to a two-day battle involving airstrikes in which more than 20 militants were killed, the military alliance said in a statement Monday.
Wardak province, just 40 miles west of Kabul, has become an insurgent stronghold on the doorsteps of the capital.
Militants have expanded their traditional bases in the country's south and east — on 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 that 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 here.
Some 65,000 international troops now operate in Afghanistan, including around 32,000 Americans.