At least nine Afghans were killed Friday during demonstrations that began four days ago, after U.S. military personnel burned a pile of Korans, and spread across the country.
Six protesters and a police officer were killed in the western province of Herat when demonstrators tried to storm the U.S. Consulate, local officials said. At least one protester also was killed in Kabul as hundreds marched toward the presidential palace Friday afternoon, according to police, and another was killed in Baghlan province, north of the capital. At each demonstration, men shouted “Death to America” and demanded retribution.
The protests began outside Bagram air base after the apparently mistaken incineration of Muslim holy books on Monday was discovered. They have rattled the already fragile alliance between U.S.-led NATO forces here and the people and government of Afghanistan. More than 20 people have been killed since the protests began.
More than a dozen protesters were injured by police in the eastern province of Khost on Friday, government spokesman Mubarez Zadran said, as hundreds of people took to the streets after noon prayers, a focal point of the Muslim week and a common stepping-off point for demonstrations.
“They took advantage of the situation and burned private cars and shops,” Zadran said, adding that the majority of protesters were young men and teenage boys.
Hundreds more gathered in Jalalabad and Laghman, both in eastern Afghanistan. The protests turned briefly violent but faded by sunset.
Marine Gen. John R. Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said in a statement that the investigation into the Koran burning is ongoing. “Working together with the Afghan leadership is the only way for us to correct this major error and ensure that it never happens again,” he said.
Allen has apologized profusely for the incident, which some officials said involved Korans confiscated from a prison on the Bagram base because they were suspected of being used to pass inflammatory messages. The books were accidentally mixed with other materials destined for the incinerator, officials said.
President Obama apologized directly to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and the U.S. military has pledged new training to avoid similar mistakes in the future. But the outreach has done little to quell the anger surging through Afghanistan and other parts of the world over an act that most Muslims would consider a desecration.
In Afghanistan on Thursday, interviews with several Afghan police officers indicated a deep level of sympathy for the protesters, and a shared sense of outrage among the demonstrators and those charged with keeping the peace.
“Afghans and the world’s Muslims should rise against the foreigners. We have no patience left,” said an Afghan police officer at a checkpoint in central Kabul. He looked at his colleague, who stood next to him, nodding. “We both will attack the foreign military people.”