Afghan warlords suspected of killing British aid worker

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The Independent Online

A British financier shot dead in Kabul may have been targeted by warlords angry at Britain's lead role in countering Afghanistan's opium trade. Steven Blair MacQueen, 41, a World Bank expert from Scotland, was days away from finishing his work as an adviser to Afghanistan's rural development ministry when he was ambushed on Monday night as he drove past aUN guesthouse.

A British financier shot dead in Kabul may have been targeted by warlords angry at Britain's lead role in countering Afghanistan's opium trade. Steven Blair MacQueen, 41, a World Bank expert from Scotland, was days away from finishing his work as an adviser to Afghanistan's rural development ministry when he was ambushed on Monday night as he drove past aUN guesthouse.

Mr MacQueen was due to fly to Washington on Sunday to meet his American fiancée, Kay McGowan, a former US embassy employee whom he had met in Kabul. The couple's baby is due next month.

It was not clear if Mr MacQueen had been deliberately targeted or had been picked at random by waiting gunmen as he drove home from dinner with friends in central Kabul.

A theory suggested that he was killed because of his involvement with Britain's counter-narcotics efforts, which have seen British Government spending doubling in the past month and increased activity by British soldiers and civilians advising Afghan counterparts.

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the shooting, which followed several months of relative calm in the Afghan capital after bombings and a kidnapping last year. But security sources in Kabul were sceptical that the organisation was still capable of staging such an attack.

Police said a vehicle blocked Mr MacQueen's car before a gunman in a four-wheel drive with blacked-out windows fired four shots, hitting him in the head and arm.

An American colleague paid tribute to Mr MacQueen, whose work for the World Bank involved setting up microcredit schemes to provide loans for opium farmers wishing to grow new crops, who would otherwise be forced to turn to drug traffickers.

She said: "It's not easy to work in Afghanistan but he hardly ever had a sense-of-humour breakdown in the two years I worked alongside him. I think the motivation for being here was the work - it is a fascinating place and he really helped to make microcredit happen, that's a big help for Afghan farmers. He was very good at explaining what we do and how we work.

"It's such a terrible shock. The last person you would expect to be targeted would be a microcredit person. He was planning to get married. He spent Christmas with his fiancée's family; they were just waiting for the embassy checks to come through before they fixed a date. They were planning to live in Washington."

Mr MacQueen's job and the nature of the attack raised fears in Kabul that drug lords may have been responsible. But Afghan and British officials refuse to speculate on a possible motive for the killing.

Kabul's estimated 2,000 foreign aid workers and diplomats have been advised to take extra security precautions. Dave Mather from the British aid group, Afghanaid, said: "Foreigners in Kabul are very much saddened about this, he was a very popular guy, but they're not panicking. Nobody is talking about leaving Kabul."

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