>Taliban claims responsibility
>More executions feared after U.S. withdrawal
>Christianity still spreading in Afghanistan
By Marshall Ramsey II, BosNewsLife International Correspondent with additional reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
HERAT PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- Islamic militants in Afghanistan have beheaded what is believed to be a Christian convert and warned other Afghani Christians of "dire consequences" for leaving Islam, after American forces withdraw from Afghanistan, BosNewsLife learned Sunday, July 3.
A video message obtained by the respected Christian oriented WORLD Magazine shows a man being beheaded by four men claiming to be members of Afghanistan's Taliban group. Abdul Latif, somewhere in his 40's, was recently kidnapped from his village outside of Enjeel, a town south of Herat, the capital of Herat province.
The video, approximately two minutes in length, show Latif being pinned to the ground while his kidnappers, wearing suicide vests and kaffiya head scarves to cover their faces, recite verses from the Quran.
"You who are joined with pagans, your sentence is to be beheaded," one of the militants reads from what looks like a paper decree. "Whoever changes his religion should be executed."
The passages refer to Sura 8:12 of the Koran ("I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks...") and the hadiths, or sayings, of Islam's prophet, Mohammed.
In the video, Latif can be seen struggling with his captors from the ground while one of the militants thrust a medium-sized blade in the side of his neck. The men then began shouting "Allahu Akhbar," or "God is great," until Latif is fully beheaded and his head placed upon his chest.
It was not yet clear Sunday, July 3, when the execution took place, but WORLD Magazine said the video had been distributed in recent weeks, suggesting the killing may have taken place in May or early June.
Christians said the killing of Latif followed a Taliban-incited attack on a United Nations compound in Mazar-e-Sharif in April of this year that followed the March burning of Korans overseen by American pastor Terry Jones in Florida.
An estimated 4,000 Afghans poured into the streets of Mazar-e-Sharif and marched on the compound, killing 10 UN officials, and, according to reports, beheading two of them.
This was followed by an attack in May by the Taliban on the Provincial Reconstruction Team headquarters in Herat area, then under Italian control, where they killed four people and injured more than 38, officials said at the time. Both of these cities were considered among Afghanistan's safest until the incidents, and slated to be the first areas turned over to all-Afghan control.
Elsewhere in the region, Daniel Pearl, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, was videotaped being beheaded in neighboring Pakistan in 2002, and U.S. defense contractor Nick Berg was beheaded by militants in Iraq in 2004.
"If U.S. troops are not in Afghanistan the Taliban will come to power," warned an Afghan Christian exiled to India, who identifies himself as 'Obaid S. Christ', which is not his real name. "We will have the same situation we had in the 1990s when the Russians left Afghanistan, when we had civil war and millions killed," he added.
He uses the name Obaid S. Christ after an Islamic court issued an arrest warrant for his decision to convert from Islam to Christianity in 2007.
U.S. President Barack Obama late last month said 10,000 troops would leave this year and all 33,000 personnel sent as part of a surge ordered in late 2009 would be home by next summer, leaving a US force of some 65,000. There are currently up to 150,000 foreign forces in Afghanistan, including about 99,000 from the United States.
Obaid S. Christ's concerns over Obama's withdrawal plan are shared by several top US lawmakers who have described it as "risky", unsupported by his military commanders and a threat to progress made in the last year.
Withdrawal at the rate Obama has planned on -- including the removal of 33,000 surge troops by the end of next summer -- "is an unnecessary risk and that is why there was no military leader who recommended it", Republican Senator John McCain said during a visit to Kabul, Sunday, July 3.
Obaid S. Christ acknowledged however that the U.S. backed government of President Hamid Karzai has not been friendly toward other Christian converts either. Early this year, two civilian courts passed a death sentence on two jailed Afghan Christians after converting to Christianity from Islam.
Only after international pressure and a jailhouse visit by U.S. and European diplomats, were the two released from prison and allowed to leave the country. They now reside in Europe.
Yet, although Obaid S. Christ criticizes the Karzai regime, he fears even more tensions when Taliban influence increases and renewed fighting among tribal groups return. "At least you cannot fight with each other now. Now you have people from different tribes in the government, but we don't know what will come after."
Despite reported persecution, at least one man, who said he "accepted Christ", approached a BosNewsLife reporter saying he wanted to learn more about the Bible.
He isn't alone. There may be as many as 10.000 Christian converts in heavily Islamic Afghanistan, according to some Christian rights activists.
Other issued figures range from as few as 500 to 8,000 Christians in a country where openly expressing Christian views can reportedly lead to killings by officials, militants or family members, BosNewsLife monitored.