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Newlywed Afghan beheaded for her refusal to become prostitute

Aref Karimi / AFP - Getty Images

Najibullah, who confessed to murdering his cousin's wife, Mahgul, 25, walks handcuffed with two Afghanistan security personnel in Herat on Oct. 15, 2012. Afghan police have arrested four people who allegedly forced a woman into prostitution in western Afghanistan and beheaded her after she refused, officials said.

The decapitation of a young woman who resisted being forced into prostitution by her own family has led to the arrests of four Afghans, and shocked a country that has seen its share of violence over decades of war. 

Mahgul, a 25-year-old newlywed, was murdered in Herat, a region of western Afghanistan where attacks against women have been on the rise, Afghan police told journalists. Her killing this past week was particularly disturbing because her body was found decapitated outside her marital home.

Police said the arrests on Saturday include her mother-in-law, father-in-law, and her husband.

The fourth individual is reported to be her husband’s cousin, who was arrested later after witnesses said he was seen with a bloody knife outside the house at the time the murder took place. The 18-year-old, identified only as Najibullah, confessed to the crime in front of reporters and television cameras, saying his aunt, Parigul, forced him to kill Mahgul.

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“My uncle’s wife told me I should kill this person,” he told reporters. “I couldn’t kill her. She told me, ‘if you can’t kill her, then help me do it.’ She forced me and I helped her.” 

He described how his aunt held Mahgul down by the legs as he beheaded her. Najibullah said his aunt told him she wanted the bride dead "'because she doesn’t listen to me.'"

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Police said their investigation has led them to conclude Mahgul was killed because she refused to become a prostitute and that during her four months of marriage she was repeatedly pressured by her mother-in-law to sleep with other men.

Mahgul’s immediate family were the ones to discover her body. They joined protests outside a police station in Herat, where dozens of women’s rights activists were protesting about delays in charging suspects in murder cases such as Mahgul's.

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This murder follows the discovery of another case in the region earlier this month, in which the body of a 30-year-old woman was found with her nose, ears and fingers removed.  

Amnesty International said Mahgul’s murder was one of many violent incidents against women and girls in the region. The Herat region, which borders Iran, was once known for its liberal treatment of women but has become increasingly conservative in the past decade.  

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At least 700 cases of violence against Herat women have been documented in the past year, according to estimates by the Department of Women’s Affairs in Herat. Cases include domestic violence, torture, murder and physical mutilation.

Sayed Abdul Qadir Rahimi, regional director for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission in Western Afghanistan, told NBC News that violence against women was on the rise and that countless more cases go unreported.

Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said in a briefing that the United States would continue working with the Afghan government to advance women and girls’ rights.

"All of our international efforts are designed to create the structures and institutions of the Afghan state to help protect these rights going forward," Nuland said. "But it’s a long road, and we’re going to have to keep working on it. And as we’ve said, even as we wind down the combat mission, our civilian programs are going to continue in Afghanistan."

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