By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
KABUL, Oct. 20 -- Two gunmen killed a female foreign aid worker in Kabul on Monday in an unusual drive-by shooting that heightened fears over the worsening security situation in and around the Afghan capital.
Witnesses and Afghan security officials said the incident occurred about 8 a.m., when two men on a motorcycle drove up to the woman as she walked to work in the Kart-e-Char neighborhood of Kabul and opened fire with automatic weapons. The rapid-fire shooting left the woman crumpled on a sidewalk in front of a residential compound frequented by foreigners, witnesses said.
A Taliban spokesman asserted responsibility for the attack, saying the woman had been targeted because she worked for a Christian aid organization. "This woman came to Afghanistan to teach Christianity to the people of Afghanistan. Our leaders issued a decree to kill this woman," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Muhahi told the Associated Press.
Officials with Serving Emergency Relief and Vocational Enterprises, the Christian charity organization the woman worked for, identified her as Gayle Williams, 34, and said she was a joint South African-British national. A statement posted on the Britain-based charity's Web site said Williams was heading to the group's office when she was killed.
"She was a person who always loved the Afghans and was dedicated to serving those who are disabled. Needless to say we are all in shock," the statement said.
Zemeri Bashary, an Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman, said Williams had lived for at least several months in the neighborhood where she was killed.
Residents of the neighborhood said Williams was regularly seen walking from her home to her nearby office. A night watchman at a construction site across from the spot where Williams's body was found said it is not uncommon to see foreigners walking or biking in the area. The watchman, who declined to give his name for fear of reprisals, said he was inside the building across the street when he and several other workmen at the site heard a loud burst of gunfire from the street.
"We came outside, and all we saw was a body lying there and there was blood. We couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman, and the police wouldn't let anyone come near," he said.
Bloodstains on the ground near where Williams apparently collapsed were the only remaining signs of the shooting Monday. A security official at the scene said she had been taken to a nearby hospital with bullet wounds. She was pronounced dead a short time later. The security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there was no word on whether the gunmen had been apprehended.
The number of attacks in Afghanistan on high-profile targets, and foreigners in particular, has risen sharply this year. In August, three female foreign aid workers and their Afghan driver were killed after Taliban insurgents strafed their vehicle with gunfire as it was traveling to Kabul from nearby Logar province. The attack on the International Rescue Committee team prompted the organization to temporarily suspend operations.
Deteriorating security conditions in provinces near Kabul have prompted fears that the rising Taliban insurgency is slowly tightening a noose around the capital. But Afghan and Western officials have consistently denied that the city of 3 million is in danger of falling under the control of insurgents.
In an interview this week, U.S. Gen. David D. McKiernan, NATO's top commander in Afghanistan, dismissed a suggestion that insurgents are forming a chokehold around the city. "I see a city where people are out every day on the streets, markets are open, there's more traffic. It's a vibrant society. It's not a well-to-do society. This is certainly a poor country," McKiernan said. "But I don't see a city that's encircled or cut off where the gates of Kabul are being cut off by the Taliban."
The shooting in southwest Kabul occurred after a recent series of violent incidents. On Sunday, a leading Afghan politician was abducted near his home in the Kart-e-Char area, about a block from where the shooting occurred. Afghan officials said Humayun Shah Asifi, a candidate for the Afghan presidency in 2004, was pulled from his car at gunpoint and whisked away by several men around midnight. Bashary, the ministry spokesman, said that the investigation into the kidnapping is ongoing, but that no one had asserted responsibility.
Late last week, Taliban gunmen stopped a bus traveling along a dangerous highway in the country's south, officials said. The gunmen killed 30 passengers, beheading at least six of them. The government said the dead were civilians, while the Taliban said they were Afghan soldiers.