A Disturbing Spree of Attacks Against Afghan Women

A brutal killing of an 18-year-old woman in Herat is the latest in a wave of violence.

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Afghan women carry water on their head near a shelter for internally displaced refugees on the outskirts of Kabul. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

HERAT, Afghanistan -- A disturbing spate of violent attacks against women has gripped western Afghanistan, where over a dozen women have been killed this year.

In the latest incident, an 18-year-old identified only as Najibullah was arrested on October 13 in connection with the gruesome torture and beheading two days earlier of a woman in the western city of Herat, near the border with Iran. Mahgul, a 25-year-old newlywed, was found dead outside her home by her family, who then carried her mutilated body to the local Department for Women's Affairs to raise awareness of her killing.

Najibullah, who gave a confession in front of journalists and television cameras on October 15, said he was forced to carry out the act by his aunt, Mahgul's mother-in-law, Parigul. He said Parigul restrained Mahgul, while he took a sharp knife and beheaded her.

"My uncle's wife told me I should kill this person. I said I couldn't kill her. She told me, 'If you can't kill her, then help me do it.' She forced me and I helped her," Najibullah recalled.

"She took me inside her home and hid me. When [Mahgul's] husband left to go to the bakery, she told me to come out. She held her [Mahgul's] legs while I beheaded her," he continued. "I asked her [Parigul] why she wanted to behead Mahgul. She said, 'I hate her because she doesn't listen to me.'"

Herat's police chief, General Sayed Abdul Ghafar, said police had initially arrested Mahgul's mother-in-law, father-in-law, and husband, but later also arrested Najibullah after witnesses came forward to say they had seen him carrying a bloody knife as he left the crime scene on the night of the killing.

Ghafar, who said the four had yet to be formally charged, said the investigation concluded that the main motive for the crime was Mahgul's refusal to become a prostitute, a demand he said was made by her in-laws. Mahgul's family, who expressed their shock at the brutal killing, rallied along with dozens of women's right activists outside a police station in Herat on October 15 to protest what they said were delays by the police in bringing charges over the crime.

In a statement released on October 17, Amnesty International strongly condemned the beheading. "The tragic fate of Mahgul is one more incident that highlights the violent atmosphere that women and girls face in Afghanistan and the region," said Suzanne Nossel, Amnesty International USA executive director.

Plague Of Violence In Herat

Mahgul's murder comes after the body of a 30-year-old woman was found in Herat's Pamanare district at the beginning of October. The victim, who had had her nose, ears, and fingers removed, was taken to Herat regional hospital, where doctors said she was tortured before being killed.

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