2 killed, 4 injured in anti-Quran-burning protest in eastern Afghanistan

By Dusan Stojanovic, AP
Sunday, September 12, 2010

2 killed in Afghan anti-Quran-burning protest

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan soldiers fired on demonstrators trying to storm a government building to protest against a once-planned Quran burning in the U.S., and two protesters were killed, an Afghan official said. Four were injured.

The protesters in eastern Logar province Sunday chanted “Death to America” and burned tires, attacked several shops and set election campaign posters on fire, said Mohammad Rahim Amin, chief of Logar’s Baraki Barak district.

“I can say for sure that this was the work of the enemies of peace and stability in Afghanistan who are trying to use any opportunity to disrupt the security situation” in the country, Amin said.

At previous protests, witnesses said Taliban agitators were among the crowd and Taliban-distributed pamphlets claimed the planned Quran burning showed the Americans were in Afghanistan to wage war against Islam.

Sunday was the third day that Afghans protested against the Quran burning despite the pastor’s decision to call it off, a decision many Afghans did not seem aware of in a country with limited media access. The other recent protests also targeted the pro-Western government.

Terry Jones called off the Quran burning late last week after originally planning it for the Sept. 11 terror attack anniversary. His plan stirred outrage among millions of Muslims and others worldwide.

Meanwhile, a Taliban commander who planned rocket attacks on polling stations during elections next week and four other insurgents were killed in eastern Afghanistan, NATO said Sunday.

The military alliance said NATO and Afghan forces killed the five insurgents Saturday night in a village compound in the eastern Nangarhar province. The insurgents were killed after they “displayed hostile intent” as the forces moved in on the compound, it said in a statement.

It said intelligence reports indicated the Taliban commander was planning to conduct rocket attacks on voting centers during the Sept. 18 parliamentary elections. The Taliban has vowed to target polling stations and warned Afghans not to participate in what it called a sham vote.

The government and its Western allies hope the elections for the lower house of parliament will help consolidate the country’s fragile democracy, leading to the withdrawal of the roughly 140,000 NATO-led foreign troops in the country. But many Afghans and foreign observers fear the vote could turn bloody if the Taliban carries out its threats.

“The Afghan people deserve to cast their votes without fear of attacks from the insurgent groups,” U.S. Army Col. Rafael Torres said in the NATO statement. “We are tracking them and taking action before they’re able to carry out their plans.”

NATO said the killed Taliban commander had participated in “intimidation campaigns and assassinations” and was directly linked to a February suicide bomb attack that killed Haji Zaman, a well-known tribal elder and warlord in eastern Afghanistan.

Also Sunday, the military alliance issued the findings of a joint NATO-Afghan team investigating an airstrike that President Hamid Karzai said killed 10 election campaign workers in northern Takhar province on Sept. 2. Karzai has repeatedly warned that civilian casualties undermine anti-insurgency efforts.

The team determined that the intended target of the airstrike — local head of an insurgent group — was in the vehicle that was hit by the airstrike. The team could not rule out the possibility of civilian casualties.

“We are very confident that the targeted individual was in the vehicle struck by the air weapons team and was killed,” said Italian Army Brig. Gen. Luigi Scollo, the head of the investigation team. “The question remains why an election official or candidate was traveling with a known terrorist?”

“He was in a six vehicle convoy, and only the vehicle he was in was hit,” Scollo said in a statement. “It was selective, surgical and legitimate.”

At the time of the airstrike, Takhar Governor Abdul Jabar Taqwa said the convoy in which election candidate Abdul Wahid Khorasani had been riding was fired on by helicopters following an initial pass by fighter jets. He called the incident an obvious mistake, saying there were no insurgents in the convoy.

Khorasani, who was injured in the airstrike, said windows of the six vehicles in the convoy had been plastered with his campaign posters and all those traveling with him had been members of his extended family.

NATO said in the statement, however, that after reviewing the air weapons system video, the investigation team saw no evidence of political campaign material on the outside of the struck vehicle.

Associated Press Writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report

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