Eight United Nations workers have been killed, and as many as 13 other people are feared dead after a violent rampage in northern Afghanistan by demonstrators protesting over the burning of a Koran at a church in Florida in the US.
The victims of the worst-ever attack on UN personnel in Afghanistan -- two of whom were beheaded -- included four guards from Nepal, and civilian staff from Norway, Sweden and Romania. It was also confirmed that five residents were killed.
UN officials said the final death toll from the incident in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif could rise as high as 20 and there were unconfirmed reports that the head of the UN Military Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama) in Mazar-e-Sharif had been seriously injured.
Residents said about 2,000 demonstrators attacked UN guards stationed outside the Unama compound, seized their weapons and began firing at police.
Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai, a police spokesman, said the protesters beheaded two of the guards and shot others before scaling an anti-blast wall to topple a guard tower and set fire to buildings.
He said: "Two of the killed UN staff were beheaded."
Few details were available about the lead-up to the attack, but residents said crowds formed after a cleric at the city's central mosque urged worshippers at Friday prayers to press the UN to take action against Reverend Wayne Sapp, an evangelical preacher who burned a Koran at a service in Gainesville, Florida, on March 20.
His church is headed by Reverend Terry Jones, a pastor who last year threatened to burn a Koran on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
Following the Koran burning by Mr Sapp, Afghan clerics called on American authorities to prosecute him as a war criminal.