LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan: Unknown gunmen killed one of Afghanistan’s most high-profile female police officers on Thursday, the latest in a series of attacks targeting top women officials amid a drawdown of foreign combat forces in the country.
Lieutenant Islam Bibi, the most senior policewoman in volatile southern Helmand province, was shot dead on her way to work in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, officials said.
“Islam Bibi was going to work this morning with her son-in-law on the back of a motorbike when two gunmen opened fire,” said Omar Zwak, a spokesman for the provincial governor.
“She died in the hospital, but her son-in-law survived.” Zwak said the 37-year-old mother of three had probably been killed by Taliban insurgents, though they had not claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Taliban has often targeted senior female officials working for the US-backed Afghan government, although many attacks have also been linked to conservative male relatives.
Bibi was often feted as a female success story in male-dominated Afghanistan, which more than a decade after the US-backed invasion in 2001 still ranks as one of the worst nations in which to be born a girl.
Since 2010 she had been regularly profiled as a rising star of the Afghan National Police. Earlier this year she described in a newspaper interview how death threats against her had even been made from within her own family.
“My brother, father and sisters were all against me. In fact my brother tried to kill me three times,” Bibi, a policewoman for nine years, had told Britain’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper.
Bibi in September 2010 featured in a profile by British forces in Helmand — a traditional Taliban stronghold — ahead of parliamentary elections in the country.
Hanifa Safi, a prominent Afghan female MP and provincial women’s affairs head, was killed last July in eastern Afghanistan when militants attached a bomb to her car.
Meanwhile, according to a report from Kandahar, a bomb attack killed four girls attending an Afghan wedding, officials said on Thursday, blaming the attack on Taliban rebels intending to target government employees at the event.
The children, aged between seven and 12, died when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated as they collected water from a river during celebrations in the southern province of Helmand.
“The children were at the wedding party and this morning they went to collect water when the IED exploded on a footpath,” provincial administration spokesman Omar Zwak said.
“The Taliban may have planted the bomb to hit local government staff who were at the wedding, but it killed innocent children.”
Senior police official Mohammad Esmail Hotak confirmed the incident outside the provincial capital Lashkar Gah and gave a similar account.
“Four young girls were killed. The body of one of them has been totally shattered,” he said.
Taliban rebels regularly use IEDs to target government officials, and Nato and Afghan soldiers, but civilians and children are also often killed and wounded by the attacks.
According to UN statistics, civilian deaths rose by 24 per cent in the first half of 2013 compared to last year.
The United Nations registered 2,499 civilian casualties between January and June, attributing 74 per cent to anti-government forces and nine per cent to pro-government forces.
Children accounted for 21 per cent of all civilians killed and wounded and casualties caused by IEDs — the Taliban’s weapon of choice — had risen 41 per cent, it said.