Quran-burning at US base fans flames of Afghan fury

US official says aim was to remove extremist literature; Panetta apologises

Written by Agencies | Bagram | Published:February 22, 2012 2:40 am

US helicopters fired flares to disperse as many as 2,000 angry Afghans who massed outside the main US military base on Tuesday after hearing staff there had burned copies of the Quran.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta issued an apology for inappropriate treatment of the Quran at the base to try and contain fury over the incident — a public relations disaster for Washington as it tries to pacify the country ahead of the withdrawal of foreign troops in 2014.

Protesters started to gather after Afghan labourers found charred remains of copies of the Koran as they collected rubbish from Bagram airbase,the provincial governor’s office said in a statement. Both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban in Afghanistan condemned the incident,both of them saying the values of Islam had been degraded.

A senior US official,speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity,said staff at Bagram had decided to remove extremist literature and other materials left in a library in the base’s detention block. “They (the materials) were taken out of the library for good reason but they were being disposed of in a bad way,” the official said. “There was a breakdown in judgment in this matter but there was no breakdown in our respect for Islam,” the official added.

Panetta said NATO had ordered an investigation into the deeply unfortunate incident,in a statement issued by the Pentagon. NATO’s top general in Afghanistan General John Allen apologised for actions at the base and said a new order had been given to all coalition forces in Afghanistan to take part in training in the proper handling of religious materials.

“This was not intentional in any way,” said Allen,the head of Afghanistan’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The apologies did little to ease the anger. “We want them out of our country now,” said Zmari,30,a protester who has a shop near Bagram. “We Afghans don’t want these Christians and infidels,they are the enemy of our soil,our honour and our Quran,” said Haji Shirin,one of the protesters at the heavily fortified compound,which is home to 30,000 foreign troops. “I urge all Muslims to sacrifice themselves in order to pull out these troops from this soil.”

President Karzai’s office condemned the incident and said the president had appointed a delegation of senior clerics to investigate how it occurred. “Based on initial reports,four copies of the Quran have been burned,” a statement from Karzai’s office said.

The Afghan Taliban also strongly condemned the incident.

“Since the invasion of Afghanistan by the animal Americans,this is almost the 10th time that they have degraded the holiest values of Muslims,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

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