LASHKAR GAH, AFGHANISTAN — Unknown gunmen killed one of Afghanistan's most high-profile female police officers on Thursday, the latest in a series of attacks targeting top women officials amid a drawdown of foreign combat forces in the country.
Lieutenant Islam Bibi, the most senior policewoman in volatile southern Helmand province, was shot dead on her way to work in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, officials said.
"Islam Bibi was going to work this morning with her son-in-law on the back of a motorbike when two gunmen opened fire," said Omar Zwak, a spokesman for the provincial governor. "She died in the hospital, but her son-in-law survived."
Zwak said the 37-year-old mother of three had probably been killed by Taliban insurgents, though they had not claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Taliban has often targeted senior female officials working for the U.S.-backed Afghan government, although many attacks have also been linked to conservative male relatives.
Bibi was often feted as a female success story in male-dominated Afghanistan, which more than a decade after the U.S.-backed invasion in 2001 still ranks as one of the worst nations in which to be born a girl.
Since 2010 she had been regularly profiled as a rising star of the Afghan National Police. Earlier this year she described in a newspaper interview how death threats against her had even been made from within her own family.
"My brother, father and sisters were all against me. In fact my brother tried to kill me three times," Bibi, a policewoman for nine years, told Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper.
Bibi in September 2010 featured in a profile by British forces in Helmand — a traditional Taliban stronghold — ahead of parliamentary elections in the country.
Hanifa Safi, a prominent Afghan female MP and provincial women's affairs head, was killed last July in eastern Afghanistan when militants attached a bomb to her car.
Four Afghan teenage girls also died in Helmand on Thursday when a roadside bomb exploded as they were carting water home.