Afghan Taliban target Christian aid worker
While the insurgents have singled out Christians, there's also a rise in attacks on all aid workers.
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The presence of Christian organizations in Afghanistan has been a sensitive issue in recent years. The population of Afghan Christians is small – less than 1 percent of the population. They often worship in secret, for fear of reprisal from neighbors. Churches are more concentrated in Kabul and in northern cities, where the Taliban has less of a presence.
A handful of Christian NGOs that operate in the country, such as Christian Aid and Catholic Relief Services, although members usually say they are only involved in humanitarian and not religious work.
Although the Afghan Constitution does not prohibit the practice of different religions, the preponderance of religious conservatives in the country's judicial system and among community leaders has meant that religious freedom is greatly inhibited.
"We are not a normal country – we are at war," says Mr. Mir, the analyst. The government worries that if it doesn't shore up its Islamic credentials, this will be of propaganda use to the Taliban, he explains.
In January, a Christian woman working for an international aid organization was abducted in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, although it is unclear whether the motive was related to her religious background.
Last year the Taliban abducted a bus load of 23 South Korean missionaries on the Kabul-Kandahar highway. Two were killed but 21 were freed after extensive negotiations.
In 2006, an Afghan court sentenced an Afghan man to death for converting to Christianity. Pressure from international groups forced the Afghan government to allow him to leave the country, and he was eventually granted exile in Italy.
Attacks on aid workers up
The attack comes at a time when the threats posed to international NGOs working in the country are at an all-time high. A report released last week by the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO), a body that monitors NGO activity in the country, says that there have been 146 incidents of violence against NGOs so far this year, already more than in all of 2007. This marks the highest rate since ANSO began keeping track of attacks in 2002.
Kidnappings and general insecurity have also been on the rise. This year has seen "unprecedented levels of violence," according to the ANSO report. "Many South and East districts have arrived at the saturation point with little territory remaining for the [Taliban] to take."
Kabul has also seen a spate of kidnapping in recent weeks, including the abduction of a high-profile former presidential candidate on Sunday.