Afghan Official: 5 Die In Quran Burning Protest

Anger over the burning of the Muslim holy book erupted into deadly violence for the second straight day in Afghanistan, where demonstrators attacked cars and shops in a riot that left at least five civilians dead, officials said.

Security forces shot in the air after a crowd began trying to burn vehicles and damage shops in the city of Kandahar Saturday morning, said Zalmai Ayubi, a spokesman for the provincial governor. It's unclear how the five protesters were slain, he said.

Fifty-three people were hurt during the protest, said Daud Ahsam, a doctor in the emergency room at Kandahar's Mirwais Hospital. Shops and restaurants throughout the city were shuttered and routes leading into the city were blocked by security forces.

An Associated Press photographer estimated the crowd at a few thousand and said demonstrators had smashed his camera and roughed up other journalists.

The desecration of the Quran has outraged millions of Muslims and others worldwide. The Rev. Terry Jones' small church, Dove Outreach Center, threatened to destroy a copy of the holy book last year. The pastor backed down but the church went through with the burning last month.

On Friday, Afghans protesting the Quran burning stormed a U.N. compound in northern Afghanistan, leaving seven foreigners dead.

Less than 24 hours later, two suicide attackers disguised as women blew themselves up and a third was gunned down when they tried to enter a NATO base on the outskirts of Kabul, NATO and Afghan police said.

The Quran was burned on March 20, but many Afghans only found out about it when Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the desecration four days later. Protests broke out on Friday in Kabul, Herat in western Afghanistan and thousands flooded the streets of Mazar-i-Sharif, the provincial capital of Balkh province in the north.

Wayne Sapp, a pastor at the church, called the events "tragic," but said he did not regret the actions of his church.

"I in no way feel like our church is responsible for what happened," Sapp said in a telephone interview on Friday.

The protest in Mazar-i-Sharif was the most violent to date. Four foreign guards and three other foreigners employed at the U.N. office that was attacked were killed. Some of them suffered severe fatal wounds.

Afghan authorities suspect insurgents melded into the mob and they announced the arrest of more than 20 people, including a militant they suspect was the ringleader of the assault. The suspect was an insurgent from Kapisa province, a hotbed of militancy about 400 kilometers southeast of the city, said Rawof Taj, deputy provincial police chief.


Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid sent a text message to the AP on Saturday denying that the insurgency was responsible for killing the U.N. workers.

Four protesters also died in the protest in Mazar-i-Sharif. Demonstrators have alleged that they were killed by Afghan security forces. Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said Saturday that a delegation of high-ranking Afghan officials was being sent to the city to investigate the what happened during the demonstration in which seven vehicles, including a police vehicle, were burned.

"When the demonstration started, the number of people increased every minute to around 5,000," Bashary said. "The police did take action, but we are investigating how these casualties occurred. Were the steps and actions by police adequate or not?"

Bashary also gave reporters details of the morning attack on Camp Phoenix, a base on the east side of Kabul that's used to train Afghan security forces.

He said three armed insurgents wearing suicide vests arrived at a main gate at the base around 6:45 a.m. Two of the attackers opened fire and then detonated their vests of explosives, Bashary said. The third opened fire and was killed by NATO forces. The body of a fourth person, an Afghan man at the scene, has not been identified. Three NATO service members were injured.

The gate at the base was scorched from the explosions. An AP reporter at the scene saw the remains of at least one of the attackers dangling from the gate. Police officer Mohammad Shakir told the AP that two suicide bombers were clad in blue burqas, the all-encompassing coverings worn by many women in Afghanistan.

This program aired on April 2, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.


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