Murdered doctor's family rejects claims that she was spy and missionary

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The Independent Online

The family of the British doctor shot dead in northern Afghanistan has dismissed claims by the Taliban that she had been preaching Christianity and spying for the Americans.

Dr Karen Woo, one of a group of 10 people killed in a remote area of Badakhshan province, was a "humanitarian" whose motivation was to give healthcare to ordinary people of Afghanistan, the family said in a statement. The insurgents declared that they executed Dr Woo and her companions, who were giving medicine to villagers and setting up a clinic, because they were carrying out missionary work and engaged in espionage.

"Her motivation was purely humanitarian. She was a humanist and had no religious or political agenda," her family said. "She wanted the world to know there was more than a war going on in Afghanistan, that people were not getting their basic needs met.

"She wanted the ordinary people of Afghanistan, especially the women and children, to be able to receive healthcare.... Her commitment was to make whatever difference she could. She was a true hero. Whilst scared, she never let that prevent her from doing things she had to do."

Dr Woo had been due to fly back to London this month with her fiancé, Mark "Paddy" Smith, to get married. Yesterday, Mr Smith saw Dr Woo's body in a morgue in Kabul.

"I just wanted to make sure that she hadn't been beaten or brutalised," he said. "She was fully clothed. She had been shot twice."

He said that Dr Woo had a "spiritual side" to her but was not religious. Mr Smith said he met Tom Little, the head of the expedition from the Christian charity International Assistance Mission who had worked in the country for 30 years. He said that Mr Little would not have tried to convert anybody to Christianity.

Mr Smith, a former British Army engineer, had just returned to Kabul from Britain after attending the funeral of a friend and colleague who was killed in an air crash in Afghanistan.

He said it had been a "privilege" to know Dr Woo. "Karen went to one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan just to help people. She was an incredible human being and it was a privilege to know her.

"It is such a terrible loss that someone who cared so much for people, for the people of Afghanistan, has gone. She made people happy, she put a smile into the faces of people who were suffering. I will miss her terribly, most of all I'll miss her love for life."

He said he had received hundreds of sympathetic emails from people around the world. "She just enjoyed helping people and she enjoyed new challenges. She just couldn't stop helping people. This was the trip of a lifetime.

"Not many people are going to get the chance to trek into Nuristan and deliver healthcare to people who have probably never had it before."

They had met when Mr Smith had helped Dr Woo carry her luggage. A month later they were in love. "It was all pretty whirlwind, but when something's right and this was very right. I hope I made her happy. She said I did, and she certainly made me happy."