Afghan authorities say an investigation has been launched in a bid to apprehend the Taliban militants responsible for the alleged public execution of a woman accused of adultery in northern Afghanistan.
International and Afghan outrage has been mounting over the alleged shooting death, which was captured in a video obtained by the Reuters news agency.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi on July 9 pledged a thorough government probe to find those who perpetrated the alleged atrocity.
"We are going to investigate thoroughly this video and we will find those culprits and those Taliban who are behind this act of violence, terrorism, and brutal act," Sediqi said. "There is no definition, no meaning for this any more."
In a written statement on July 9, Afghan President Hamid Karzai termed the killing a heinous and unforgivable crime.
"Such a crime is unforgivable in the sacred religion of Islam and the laws of the country," Karzai's statement said.
NATO's top commander in Afghanistan, U.S. General John Allen, called the killing "an atrocity of unspeakable cruelty."
In London, Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was "shocked and disgusted" by the reports.
Earlier, the Afghan government condemned the act as "un-Islamic and inhuman."
Video of the alleged execution-style killing shows a woman being shot in the back of the head before a cheering crowd of villagers.
The incident allegedly occurred in a remote region in Parwan Province, some 100 kilometers north of the capital, Kabul.
A female Afghan lawmaker, Fawzia Koofi, condemned the execution and questioned how it could happen so close to the capital and in front of so many people.
Koofi, who has stated her intention to run for president in 2014, said the execution came under the watch of a government that has claimed to have done so much for women.
A video shows a man pointing a rifle at a 22-year-old woman named as Najiba, who is sitting at the edge of a ditch shortly before being shot in the village of Qol.
The head of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, Musa Mahmoudi, said, "This shows that women are still the first victims of violence in Afghanistan, despite efforts being done to reduce it."
Public punishments like the execution were carried out during the Taliban's 1996-2001 rule of Afghanistan.
Analysts say the case also raises concerns about the treatment of Afghan women nearly 11 years after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban regime from Kabul.
Shajan Yazdanparast, the head of women's affairs for Parwan Province, said women had already suffered enough under Taliban rule.
"We have had a very bad experience of Taliban in the past several years. Everyone is in shock and scared that, God forbid, if the Taliban return, what will happen," Yazdanparast said.
Women "suffered socially, psychologically, and they could not study during their time [in power]," Yazdanparast added.
Violence against women has increased sharply in the past year, according to Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission.
Earlier in the week, a woman and two of her children were beheaded in eastern Afghanistan by a man police said was her husband. It was the latest in a series of so-called honor killings.
Women's Gains At Risk?
Afghan women have won back rights in education, voting, and work since the Taliban was driven from power in late 2001 by U.S.-backed Afghan forces.
Now many fear those rights could be put at risk by reconciliation talks between the government and the Taliban.
At an international donors conference in Tokyo, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an appeal for women's rights in Afghanistan.
"The United States believes strongly that no nation can achieve peace, stability and economic growth if half the population is not empowered," Clinton said.
"All citizens need to have the chance to benefit from and contribute to Afghanistan's progress. The United States will continue to stand strongly by the women of Afghanistan," she added.
The governor of Parwan Province, Basir Salangi, said the video was shot a week ago in the village of Qimchok in Shinwari district.
Salangi said two Taliban commanders were sexually involved with the woman, either through rape or romantically, and decided to torture her and kill her to settle their dispute.
However, a Taliban spokesman told the dpa news agency its militants were not involved.
The German agency notes Parwan has seen a rise in violence recently, with the Taliban taking over villages in at least two districts.
Some Afghans still turn to Taliban courts for settling disputes, as many view government bodies as corrupt or unreliable. The Taliban courts use Shari'a, which prescribes punishments such as stoning and executions.
A Parwan provincial spokeswoman, Roshno Khalid, told the AFP news agency late on July 8 that "security forces are preparing a big operation to find the culprits."
With reporting by AFP, dpa, and Reuters