The supreme leader of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia warned on January 8 that his regime will enforce the death penalty on any Muslim who converts to another faith.

Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar made the declaration over Radio Shariat, explaining that such an action is required by the strict interpretation of Islamic law enforced under Taliban rule. The Taliban controls roughly 90 percent of Afghanistan. Omar also specified that "any non-Muslim found trying to win converts will also be killed," according to an Associated Press report on the broadcast.

"It is seen that enemies of the sacred religion of Islam are making efforts throughout the world to eliminate this pure religion," the Taliban leader said. Omar did not elaborate, except to declare that "numerous plots" had been uncovered to corrupt Islam, and that some Afghans had converted for "material benefits."

Senior Taliban spokesman Abdul Hai Mutmain claimed that "certain foreigners" in the country were working secretly to convert Afghans to Christianity. "There are programs by some agencies inside and outside Afghanistan to do this," Mutmain said. He did not identify any organizations by name.

The edict condemned those professing either Christianity or Judaism, adding that anyone seen "distributing their religious literature, or making publicity in their interest, will be condemned to death."

Mutmain says the Taliban's religious police have been ordered to implement the edict against apostasy. The decree also announced a five-year jail sentence for anyone caught selling or distributing "anti-Islamic" literature.

Since the Taliban seized control of Kabul in 1996, the movement has introduced a harsh version of Islamic and tribal law. "Murderers are executed by ...

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