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Slain British Aid Worker Buried In Afghanistan

KABUL (Reuters) -- Surrounded by tight security, some 50 mourners gathered in the Afghan capital on October 26 for the funeral of Gayle Williams, a British aid worker killed by Taliban gunmen on her way to work a week ago.

The killing, together with the shooting of a South African and a British man in the city on October 25, has led to fears Taliban insurgents could target Westerners to scare off aid workers and undermine efforts to bring development and security.

The Taliban said they had killed Williams, 34, because she worked for SERVE Afghanistan, a British-based Christian aid organisation that the militants said was trying to convert Afghanistan's fiercely conservative Muslim population.

SERVE denies it tries to spread Christianity and says its work concentrates on teaching children with disabilities.

"A completely defenceless young woman with a heart of love for the people of Afghanistan, was walking alone to work to care for the people who were defenceless here in this country," said the man leading the service, who declined to be named.

"Two armed men gunned down a young defenceless girl. It is hard to see this as anything other than a cowardly act that brings shame on the people who carried out this murder," he said.

Family, friends, and colleagues, including her mother Patricia and her sister Karen, attended the funeral at the British Cemetery in the heart of the city.

Dozens of police surrounded the cemetery and blocked roads to traffic, a stark reminder of Afghanistan's deteriorating security. Police patrolled the hill overlooking the ceremony.

Aid Workers A Target

Williams' mother sat beneath the shade of a tree, at times weeping as friends and colleagues paid tribute.

"Gayle was a special colleague, she was a precious sister to all of our SERVE staff," said one of Williams' colleagues. "She was a joyful and courageous woman. We lost a dear co-worker."

In the weeks before her death, Williams had attended the funeral of a friend at the same cemetery and had expressed her desire to be buried there if she were to die in Afghanistan.

"Now we have seen this cemetery, and if I die here, I know where I will be laid to rest," Gayle had told friends. A friend paying tribute, said Williams had discussed the possibility of one of them coming to harm in Afghanistan.

"'These bodies are only temporary. When I get to heaven I will have a new body'," Williams had told her friend.

Taliban insurgents have increasingly targeted aid workers this year in their campaign to spread an atmosphere of fear and undermine claims by the Afghan government and its Western backers that they are bringing security to the nation.

Some 4,000 people, a third of them civilians were killed this year. There were more than 120 attacks on aid programmes in the first seven months of this year, the United Nations says. Thirty aid workers have been killed and 92 abducted.

The cemetery was built in the 1870's during the second Anglo-Afghan War and there are several headstones of British soldiers from that time, but most graves are of Kabul's European residents buried there up to the 1970s.

Following the funeral, Williams' mother and sister were taken to meet President Hamid Karzai who wished to express his condolences.