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Originally published Tuesday, October 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Christian aid worker killed in Afghanistan; Taliban say she was proselytizing

Taliban assailants on a motorbike gunned down a Christian aid worker in Kabul on Monday and the militants said she was killed for spreading...

The Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan — 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 said. "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 coldblooded 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.

"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.

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 concrete 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.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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