Koran row: Nato troops shot dead after Taliban call on Westeners to be killed
TWO Nato troops have been killed by a man wearing an Afghan army uniform, hours after the Taliban called on people to kill Westerners in retaliation for the burning of copies of the Koran at a US airbase.
"An individual wearing an Afghan National Army uniform turned his weapon against International Security Assistance Force service members in eastern Afghanistan today, killing two service members," ISAF said.
ISAF did not identify the nationalities of the dead soldiers and gave no further details of the incident, which came on the third day of fierce protests against the burning of the Koran at a US-run military base.
Asked whether the events were connected, an ISAF spokesman would only say: "There was a demonstration in the province."
Afghan troops defending a foreign base in eastern Nangarhar province had "joined demonstrators and opened fire on foreign troops", a protester told the Afghan Islamic Press news agency.
Thousands of furious Afghans besieged a US base for the third day in a row on Thursday, throwing rocks and climbing up the outer walls.
Just hours earlier, the Taliban exhorted Afghans to attack and kill foreign troops to avenge the burning of Korans, but stopped short of cutting off contacts with American officials in Qatar over the crisis.
Afghanistan is a deeply religious country where slights against Islam have frequently provoked violent protests, and many Afghans are incensed at the discovery of charred Korans at the US-run Bagram airbase north of Kabul.
Thousands of demonstrators besieged the base of a US-led military-civilian provincial reconstruction team (PRT) in Mihtarlam, the capital of Laghman province east of Kabul, senior police official Khalilul Rahman Niazi told AFP.
"People had come from all over Laghman. They attacked the PRT, they climbed up the walls, they set fire to something there, I think a container," he said.
Mr Niazi said he believed two people were wounded by gunfire from the base as they stormed the walls and hurled rocks under a pall of thick black smoke.
Officials said at least three people were killed by gunfire at demonstrations in the south and east of the country Thursday, bringing the total death toll to 12 since Wednesday.
Pouncing on the opportunity to fan anti-US fires, the Taliban militia urged Afghans to "not stop" at merely protesting. The Islamist movement has been leading a 10-year insurgency against being toppled in the 2001 US-led invasion.
"You should bring the invading forces' military bases under your brave attack, their military convoys, kill them, capture them, beat them and teach them a lesson that they will never again dare to insult the Holy Koran," it said.
Yet the militia's main spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, told AFP late on Wednesday that the Koran burning would not affect contacts with US officials in Qatar, designed to build confidence and pave the way for a prisoner exchange.
"We condemn the desecration of the Holy Koran in the strongest terms, but this issue will not affect this process in Qatar," he said.
US officials have apologised repeatedly for the burning of the Korans, which were sent to an incinerator pit at Bagram.
Nato spokesman Brig Gen Carsten Jacobson said it was "probably an act of ignorance" but "a mistake with grave consequences".
US officials speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP the military removed Korans from a prison at Bagram because inmates were suspected of using the holy book to pass messages to each other.
The backlash over the incident is likely to continue for several more days, said Martine van Bijlert of the Afghanistan Analysts' Network.
"The demonstrations are a combination of religious outrage, pent-up frustration and groups wanting to stir trouble," she wrote in an analysis.
"It is difficult to predict how bad things will get; this will depend largely on who manages to control – or hijack – the expressions of anger."