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Last Updated: Monday, 17 October 2005, 17:40 GMT 18:40 UK
'Taleban' kill two Afghan clerics
Two pro-government clerics have been killed in separate attacks by suspected Taleban militants in Afghanistan, government officials say.

Mohammad Gul was shot dead near a mosque in Lashkargah, Helmand, and Noor Ahmed Jan was killed in Ghaziabad district of the eastern Kunar province.

This brings to three the number of religious figures killed in three days.

About 5,000 people protested on Sunday in Khost, urging the government to protect religious scholars.

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Mohammad Gul - a member of a clerics' council known as Shura-e Ulema - was shot dead as he walked home from a mosque in Lashkargah, the provincial capital of Helmand, a provincial official said.

No one has claimed the killings, but the government blamed them on the Taleban.

'Political killing'

It is a political killing. The Taleban did it. It is their work
Gen Abdul Gafar
Kunar police chief

Hours later militants attacked the home of Noor Ahmad Jan, head of the clerics' council in Kunar, local police chief Gen Abdul Ghafar said.

Locals in the area who knew Mawlavi Noor Ahmed Jan told the BBC that the cleric was very critical of the Taleban.

"He used to tell people that what Taleban did was against the spirit of Islam," one resident, Amin Jan, said.

Another person who knew the cleric, Abdul Satar, said that Noor Ahmad Jan had allegedly received a threat some days ago warning him that he would be killed if he did not stop talking against the Taleban.

"It is a political killing. The Taleban did it. It is their work," Gen Abdul Ghafar told the BBC.

Murdered cleric

The BBC's Andrew North in Kabul says to be a religious leader in Afghanistan who backs President Hamid Karzai has become ever more dangerous.

He says what now appears to be a systematic campaign began in May, when a prominent religious leader and government supporter was shot dead in the southern city of Kandahar.

Twenty people were killed and 40 injured when a suicide bomber targeted a mosque in the city, where mourners had gathered for a service for a cleric murdered earlier in the week.

The Taliban said they carried out the attack. Since then they have been blamed for the killings of another seven clerics around Afghanistan regarded as being pro-government.

The reasoning is simple, observers say - the Taliban regard any cleric who backs the government as one of the most potent threats to their campaign to re-establish their brand of religious rule.

A pro-government cleric, Mawlavi Ahmed Khan, was killed on Friday in Tanai district of Khost province.

His funeral brought thousands of supporters onto the streets of his home city demanding his killers be brought to justice.

More than 1,200 people have been killed in the upsurge of violence in Afghanistan this year.


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