British Worker Murdered in Afghan Capital

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Unidentified gunmen shot dead a British development worker in a nighttime attack in Kabul after a monthslong lull in violent incidents in the Afghan capital, police and the British embassy said Tuesday.

Steven Blair MacQueen (search), 41, who worked as an adviser to Afghanistan's (search) rural development ministry, was killed as he drove a pickup truck through downtown late Monday — a few days before he had been due to leave the country.

The attack happened about 10:15 p.m. in front of the main guest house for U.N. (search) workers in Kabul and the Dutch Embassy, Gen. Sher Agha, a Kabul police commander, told The Associated Press. It was the first fatal attack on a foreigner in the city this year.

The British Embassy said MacQueen's next of kin had been informed and were being provided consular assistance.

The motive for the shooting was unclear.

Agha said two vehicles, one of them a black landcruiser, had followed the British man's white Toyota pickup truck then drove ahead of him and blocked his way. From inside the landcruiser, someone opened fire, killing the man, before driving away.

MacQueen was alone inside the fourwheel drive vehicle, which belonged to the rural development ministry, he said.

A police official, who requested anonymity, said four bullets were fired, and two hit MacQueen in the head and left arm.

Agha said police were still investigating the shooting.

In another drive-by attack Tuesday, robbers in a Toyota car opened fire on an Afghan military vehicle carrying cash for soldiers' salaries in a northern district of Kabul, injuring an army officer and the driver of a passing bus, said police officer Raouf Taj.

The robbers fled without managing to steal the 1.4 million Afghanis (US$28,000) in cash, he said.

The victim of Monday's shooting, MacQueen, from Scotland, was a private consultant working on a micro-finance project to help poor Afghans, funded through a trust fund administered by the World Bank.

Acquaintances and a Kabul-based diplomat said MacQueen's American girlfriend used to work at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, but had recently left the country.

MacQueen had been due to leave Afghanistan to join her in the United States within a week, they said.

Since holding its first direct presidential elections in October, Afghanistan has enjoyed a period of relative calm, marked by a decline in attacks by Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents that have plagued restive areas of the south and east.

The three years since the ouster of the Taliban has seen numerous attacks on aid workers in the countryside, but there have been few against foreigners in the capital which is patrolled by thousands of NATO peacekeepers.

But in November, three foreign election workers were kidnapped in Kabul by a Taliban splinter group. They were released unharmed a month later.

The bloodiest incidents targeting foreigners in the city in the past year were a car bomb explosion in August outside the office of a U.S. security company that provides bodyguards for President Hamid Karzai, killing about 10 people. In October, a suicide attacker killed an American translator and an Afghan girl on a market street popular with foreigners by detonating grenades attached to his own body.

In December, a Turkish engineer working on a U.S.-sponsored road project was kidnapped and killed by unidentified kidnappers in eastern Kunar province.