- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 4, 2006

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Taliban militants beheaded a teacher in a central Afghan town while his wife and eight children watched, officials said yesterday, describing the latest in a string of attacks targeting educators at schools where girls study.

Four men stabbed Malim Abdul Habib eight times late Tuesday before decapitating him in the courtyard of his home in Qalat, said Ali Khail, a spokesman for the provincial government of Zabul, where the attack occurred.

The assailants made Mr. Habib’s wife, four sons and four daughters watch, Mr. Khail said. The children were between ages 2 and 22. No other family members were hurt.

The insurgents killed Mr. Habib, 45, after he refused to go with them to meet their commander, said the victim’s cousin Esanullah, who goes by only one name.

The attackers fled and Mr. Habib’s wife called the police, Mr. Khail said. Police are questioning three persons who were guests in the victim’s home at the time.

Mr. Habib was the headmaster of Sheik Mathi Baba High School, which is attended by 1,300 boys and girls.

Zabul, a remote and mountainous province populated mainly by Pashtuns and bordering Pakistan, is a hotbed of Taliban militancy. The Taliban regime, ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001, had prohibited girls from attending school as part of a widely criticized drive to establish what it considered a “pure” Islamic state.

Zabul’s education director, Nabi Khushal, blamed Taliban rebels for the killing.

“Only the Taliban are against girls being educated,” he said. “The Taliban often attack our teachers and beat them. But this is the first time one has been killed in this province.”

Hundreds of thousands of girls have returned to school since the Taliban’s ouster.

A UNICEF spokesman said the attacks were “incredibly worrying.”

“Militants are clearly trying to intimidate communities and force families not to send their girls to school,” Edward Carwardine said. “We hope these incidents will not deter families. … Fortunately, so far we have not seen a decline in girls attending.”

Mr. Habib’s funeral yesterday was attended by hundreds of students and teachers.

In the past year, Taliban insurgents occasionally have put up posters around Qalat demanding that girls schools be closed and threatening to kill teachers, Mr. Khushal said.

He said 100 of the province’s 170 registered schools have been closed in the past two to three years because of poor security. Of the 35,000 students attending schools in Zabul, 2,700 were girls, he said.

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