MAZAR-E-SHARIF -- A self-proclaimed mullah in Afghanistan, who allegedly filmed himself sexually assaulting women, is on the run after the videos went viral on social media, prompting local religious leaders to order his death by stoning.
Mullah Rasool, a traditional healer from Pashtun Kot District, Faryab Province, wrote incantations for clients in a village in Faryab Province. He is accused of sexually exploiting and raping several women who had gone to him to seek help.
The videos, featuring one man with a long beard and white robes and three different women, have been viewed tens of thousands of times.
Rasool, whose nickname is Landai -- "Shorty" in Pashtu -- allegedly used the tapes to blackmail the women. The videos began circulating on social media in recent weeks, but it is unclear when they were made or if they were filmed in Rasool's village of Chinar.
On the run
Rasool shot the videos three years ago, said Naqibullah Faiq, governor of Faryab Province.
"He forced women to have sex with him and threatened to publish the videos if they denounced him," Faiq told France 24. "Someone got ahold of his telephone two years ago and blackmailed him for months, extorting considerable money. Landai eventually fled to Turkey about 18 months ago. That was when the videos started circulating from phone to phone."
Rasool is rumoured to have returned to Afghanistan, said Faiq, adding, "We are trying to track him down."
Faiq has offered his own car as a reward to anyone with information leading to Rasool's arrest, AFP reported.
"He will be arrested. He has no place abroad," Faiq recently told a gathering.
Top religious leaders in Faryab have sentenced Rasool to death by stoning.
Fear for women's safety
While the most of identities of the women are not yet known, their faces are noticeable in the videos, raising fears for their physical safety.
Afghan police arrested a married woman who allegedly appeared in one of the videos, an official said Thursday (September 27). She faces charges under the moral crimes section of Afghan law, which prohibits adultery.
The woman, a police officer in the northwestern province of Faryab, was detained after she was identified by her colleagues from the videos that have been widely shared on social media, attorney general spokesman Jamshid Rasooli told AFP.
The mullah "tricked" the local women, said Sharifa Azimi, chief of the provincial women's affairs department. She urged local religious leaders to tell their worshippers that the women in Rasool's videos are "innocent victims".
"We are very worried that they will be murdered," Azimi told AFP.
Local authorities found the body of a woman dumped in a ditch near Chinar village several days ago, but it has not yet been identified, according to Azimi.
"We predict there will be honour killings," Faryab provincial governor's spokesperson Jawed Bidar told AFP.
These fears are not unfounded, nor is such violence unprecedented.
In January 2017, a 17-year-old girl identified as "Palwasha" was reportedly raped by another self-proclaimed mullah in Kandahar, France 24 reported. In 2016, media reported the multiple rapes of a 15-year-old in Jawzjan Province under similar circumstances.
In 2015, an angry mob murdered a 27-year-old woman named Farkhunda in Kabul.
It was initially reported that she had burned a Koran, inciting the mob violence, but witnesses said she was killed for speaking out against a local mullah who sold charms to women outside a shrine in central Kabul, the Daily Mail reported.