(ADDS MORE DETAILS, BACKGROUND)
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (BosNewsLife)– Afghanistan’s tiny Christian community was left in shock Friday, July 25, after two Finnish Christian aid workers were shot dead, officials confirmed.
The two women were killed by gunmen in the western city of Herat, the latest in a series of attacks targeting Westerners, including Christian believers.
The Christians, who represented International Assistance Mission (IAM), had been working in Afghanistan since the 1990s. “With deep sadness we confirm that…two Finnish expatriate female staff members of IAM were killed in Herat,” said Heini Mäkilä, IAM’s acting executive director.
“The two aid workers had been serving with IAM in Afghanistan for a number of years and had also lived in Herat for several years. They both spoke Dari well and knew and respected the culture of Afghanistan.”
Christians said two men, travelling by motorcycle, shot the women while they were in a taxi. No group claimed immediately responsibility for the attack.
Names of the women were not yet released.
The attack came as a major setback for Christian aid group IAM, which has worked continuously in Afghanistan for
nearly 50 years, since 1966.
“Our prayers are with their relatives, friends, Afghan and international colleagues,” Mäkilä said.
IAM employs 500 Afghan staff and 50 expatriate Christian professionals from Europe, North America, Asia, Africa and Oceania, who work in health care and economic development projects.
“One of the [murdered] female staff workers…was helping to establish social work within IAM’s mental health project in Herat,” explained Mäkilä in a statement seen by BosNewsLife.
“The other woman had just returned to Afghanistan a few days earlier to work as the team leader of IAM in Herat,” after years of working in other projects, she added.
“She was also supporting our Business Development project for illiterate women,” the official explained.
Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.
Thursday’s attack has underscored the dangers faced by Christian aid workers.
Foreign troops have been in Afghanistan fighting militants of the militant Taliban group since 2001, but their planned withdrawing from the country this year would leave Afghan forces to maintain security in the volatile nation.
Besides the two women, three Americans were shot and killed in April at a Kabul hospital funded by American Christian charity CURE, which said it had delivered “life-changing medical care and the good news of God’s love to children and families with treatable conditions.”
Last month Indian Jesuit priest Alexis Prem Kumar, who heads Jesuit Refugee Service operations in Afghanistan, was abducted by suspected Islamic militants at a school in Herat province. Over 99 percent of the Afghan population is either Sunni, or Shia.
Christians and other non-Muslim religious groups, who make up less than 1 percent of the population, face growing pressure.
The U.S. State Department has said there are no Christian churches left standing in Afghanistan after local courts backed the destruction of the last known church building in the troubled nation.
However house churches are continuing in the country.
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