A BRITISH aid worker gunned down in Kabul yesterday was murdered because she was a Christian, the Taleban claim.
Gayle Williams, 34, was shot at close range by two men on a motorbike, in a residential district of the Afghan capital popular with missionaries.
Eyewitnesses said she collapsed in a pool of blood, after the men fired six shots from a pistol, hitting her in the chest and legs.
Daolad Khan, who was working on a building site directly opposite the murder scene, said: "They raced up the street and stopped in front of the lady. They took out a gun and shot her on the spot. Then they rode off."
Security officials said it was the first time an international aid worker had been killed inside Kabul since 2001.
The Taleban said they carried out the attack on the grounds that Ms Williams was trying to convert people to Christianity. "This woman came to Afghanistan to teach Christianity to the people of Afghanistan," militant spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said. "Our (leaders] issued a decree to kill this woman."
Williams was working for a British-based Christian charity called Serve Afghanistan. Staff there insisted she had never tried to convert others.
Rina van der Ende, a spokeswoman for Serve in Kabul, said: "They are here to do NGO aid work. It's not the case that they preach, not at all."
Mike Lyth, the London-based chairman of Serve Afghanistan, said he had lost a "close personal friend" who had devoted her life to helping others.
He said: "She was working with disabled children: blind children, deaf children and children hurt and maimed by the fighting."
Colleagues last night paid tribute to a "selfless" woman dedicated to her work. A message on the charity's website read: "Gayle was not a woman who thought of herself. Her time and energy were always spent on behalf of others."
Mr Lyth said she had been working in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taleban, until six months ago, when she moved to Kabul because it was safer.
"We heard that foreign groups were under surveillance and we felt it wasn't right to expose our foreigners to that sort of situation, so we brought her back to Kabul," he said.
Ms Williams' next of kin were told of her death yesterday. Friends said she was born in South Africa, but spent a lot of time in Britain, and had dual nationality. The International Development Secretary, Douglas Alexande condemned the Taleban's attempt to justify the killing. He said: "It was with great sadness that I heard about the death of Gayle Williams, a charity worker whose only aim was to help the people of Afghanistan.
"Her killing was a callous and cowardly act by people who would take Afghanistan back to the dark days. To suggest her killing was a religious act is as despicable as it is absurd – it was cold-blooded murder."
Locals fear that western charities will abandon Afghanistan if security continues to deteriorate. But one senior aid worker insisted the situation was not that bleak.
He said: "People forget most of the aid agencies were here during the Taleban. Of course, they will review their security. It is a gradual restriction on operations, but they will strive to deliver a service."