In the Afghan city of Kandahar (map, from bbcimg.co.uk) hundreds of people protested on Saturday against a US pastor’s burning of the Quran. Ten people have been killed during the demonstration, officials said.
The day before the same issue led to a protest in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif. The protesters burned parts of the compound and climbed walls to topple a guard tower.
At least 11 people were killed according to Afghan officials, including seven UN workers, making it the worst attack on the UN mission in this country since 2001. The UN also said that the throat of one of the dead foreigners was slit.
Although the Taliban were blamed for the attacks by the authorities in both Kandahar and Mazar-e Sharif, the Taliban has rejected the accusation.
“The Taliban had nothing to do with this, it was a pure act of responsible Muslims,” spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told the Reuters news agency by phone from an undisclosed location.
“The foreigners brought the wrath of the Afghans on themselves by burning the Quran,” he added.
The violence in Mazar-e Sharif were condemned as “outrageous and cowardly” by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and Afghan president Hamid Karzai said it was inhumane and against Islamic and Afghan values.
27 people have been arrested after the protest in Mazar-e Sharif, local police told the BBC.
Protesters had rallied in order to protest against the actions of US evangelical pastor Wayne Sapp who burned a copy of the Muslim holy book in a church in Florida on March 20.
Many Afghans only heard about it four days later, when the desecration was condemned by their country’s president.
Pastor Terry Jones supervised the burning. Last year his aborted plan to burn copies of the Quran on the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks on New York, sparked international outrage.
On March 20, the pastor Jones held a mock trial of the Quran in which he was the judge. A Christian who had converted from Islam was the prosecutor and an imam from Dallas defended the holy book.
12 members of Mr Jones’s church, the Dove World Outreach Center sat as a jury and listened to arguments from both sides.
They then pronounced the Quran guilty of five “crimes against humanity”, such as the promotion of terrorist acts and “the death, rape and torture of people worldwide whose only crime is not being of the Islamic faith.”
The event was streamed on the church’s website.
On Friday, in an interview with AFP news agency the pastor Jones said he was “devastated” by the killings in Afghanistan, but added : “We don’t feel responsible for that.”
In a statement he demanded that the US and UN take “immediate action” against Muslim nations in retaliation for the deaths, saying that “the time has come to hold Islam accountable.”
He also called on the UN to act against “Muslim-dominated countries,” which he said “must alter the laws that govern their countries to allow for individual freedoms and rights, such as the right to worship, free speech and to move freely without fear of being attacked or killed.”
‘Here to stay’
According to the BBC, in the city of Mazar-e Sharif a state of emergency has been declared, all roads in and out have been blocked and cars are being checked.
It is too early to say how the attack happened or why the UN was targeted, explained Kieran Dwyer, director of communications for the UN mission in Afghanistan, who added that the organisation would now take extra security measures.
However he added: “The UN is here to stay. We’re here to work with the people to help them achieve peace, and this sort of thing just highlights how important that is.”
On Friday protests were held in other Afghan cities, in Kabul and Herat in western Afghanistan.