Asia

Two female judges shot dead in Kabul as wave of killings continues

Two female judges working for the Afghan supreme court have been shot dead in Kabul, according to officials, as a wave of assassinations continues to rock the country.

Violence has surged across Afghanistan in recent months. The killings of the high-profile figures in the capital have taken place despite peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, behind held in Qatar.

The attack early on Sunday came two days after the Pentagon announced it had reduced US troop numbers in the country to their lowest level for two decades, to just 2,500. Afghan officials have blamed the wave of violence on the release of 5,000 Taliban fighters last year, following a peace deal between the group and the Trump administration.

In return, the Taliban pledged not to attack international forces. In recent months, however, suspected Taliban militants have targeted and killed several prominent Afghans including politicians, journalists, activists, doctors and prosecutors.

The murdered women have not been named. Gunmen riding a motorcycle ambushed them in the early morning in the Taimani area of Kabul. After firing shots, they drove off. A crowd gathered at the scene as shattered glass and a trail of blood lay on the road.

The attack on the judges happened as they were driving to their office in a court vehicle, said Ahmad Fahim Qaweem, a spokesperson for the supreme court.

“Unfortunately, we have lost two women judges in today’s attack. Their driver is wounded,” Qaweem said. There were more than 200 female judges working for the country’s top court, the spokesperson added.

The US chargé d’affaires in Kabul, Ross Wilson, condemned Sunday’s assassination and called for a “prompt investigation”. “The Taliban should understand that such actions for which it bears responsibility outrage the world and must cease if peace is to come to Afghanistan,” he said.

These latest murders underscore a major foreign policy decision awaiting the incoming the US president, Joe Biden: whether to continue with Donald Trump’s troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. All US soldiers are due to leave by May.

On Friday, Afghanistan’s vice-president, Amrullah Saleh, said Washington had made a mistake in conceding too much to the Taliban. A US pullout would mean more violence, he said, adding: “The Taliban were terrorists. They are terrorists today. They are killing women, activists, civil rights activists.”

Afghan officials have blamed the Taliban for the attacks, a charge the insurgent group denies.

In February 2017, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside Afghanistan’s supreme court, killing at least 20 employees and wounding 41.

The rival Islamic State jihadist group has claimed responsibility for multiple recent attacks, including on educational institutions that killed 50 people, most of them students. Isis has also said it was behind rocket attacks in December that hit a US base in Afghanistan. There were no casualties.

This month the US military for the first time directly accused the Taliban of being behind the rise in bloodshed.

“The Taliban’s campaign of unclaimed attacks and targeted killings of government officials, civil society leaders and journalists must … cease for peace to succeed,” Col Sonny Leggett, a spokesperson for US forces in Afghanistan, said on Twitter.

The Taliban carried out more than 18,000 attacks in 2020, Afghanistan’s spy chief, Ahmad Zia Siraj, told lawmakers this month.

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