Anger over Quran burning spreads in Afghanistan; 9 dead
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Anger over the burning of the Muslim holy book at a Florida church fueled a second day of deadly violence half a world away in Afghanistan, where demonstrators set cars and shops ablaze Saturday in a riot that killed nine protesters, officials said.
The church’s desecration of the Quran nearly two weeks ago has outraged millions of Muslims and others worldwide, fueling anti-American sentiment that is further straining ties between the Afghan government and the West.
The uproar even brought violence to the normally peaceful city of Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan on Friday, where a crowd of protesters — apparently infiltrated by insurgents — stormed a U.N. compound in an outpouring that left four Afghan protesters and seven foreign U.N. employees dead.
In an unrelated attack that nonetheless demonstrated the kind of violence plaguing Afghanistan nearly a decade after the U.S. invaded to oust the Taliban and hunt al-Qaida, two suicide attackers disguised as women in blue burqas blew themselves up and a third was gunned down at a NATO base on the outskirts of Kabul.
The Quran was burned March 20, but many Afghans only found out about it when Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the desecration four days later. The burning took place at the Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, the same church where the Rev. Terry Jones had threatened to destroy a copy of the holy book last year but initially backed down.
On Saturday, hundreds of Afghans carrying long sticks and holding copies of the Quran over their heads marched through Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan and the cradle of the insurgency. The crackle of gunfire could be heard throughout the city, which was blanketed by thick black smoke.
Security forces shot in the air to disperse the crowd, said Zalmai Ayubi, a spokesman for the provincial governor. It’s unclear how the protesters were slain, he said.
The governor’s office in Kandahar province issued a statement saying that nine protesters were killed and 81 others were injured in the demonstration that turned into a riot. Seventeen people, including seven armed men, have been arrested, the statement said.
The governor’s office claims demonstrators were incited by extremists who joined the group and set property ablaze.
“Some wicked and destructive people placed themselves amongst the protesters and started rioting throughout the entire Kandahar city,” the governor’s office said. “The enemies of the people and country also burned down the furniture and a bus at a ladies’ high school in Kandahar and destroyed some other properties.
Shops and restaurants throughout the city were shuttered and routes leading into the city were blocked by security forces.
An Associated Press photographer estimated the crowd at a few thousand and said demonstrators had smashed his camera and roughed up other journalists.
The bloodshed began Friday in Kabul, Herat in western Afghanistan and Mazar-i-Sharif, where thousands flooded the streets.
The seven foreigners killed at the U.N. compound included four Nepalese guards. The other three were identified by officials in their home countries as: Joakim Dungel, a 33-year-old Swede; Lt. Col. Siri Skare, a 53-year-old female pilot from Norway; and Filaret Motco, a 43-year-old Romanian who worked in the political section of the U.N.