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FACTDROP: US and Nato apologise for erroneous Afghan Qur'an burning


US and Nato apologise for erroneous Afghan Qur'an burning

Afghan protesters show copies of Qur’ans allegedly set alight by US soldiers at Bagram airbase. Nato and US officials quickly issued an apology for an error that caused the incineration.

Πηγή: The Guardian
By Emma Graham-Harrison
Feb 21 2012

Officials issue speedy apology to protesters over 'error' that caused incineration of religious books at Bagram military airbase.

US and Nato forces have rushed to apologise for discarding and possibly burning copies of the Qur'an, as thousands of furious Afghans gathered to protest outside Bagram military airbase.

Some carried ancient hunting rifles and others used slingshots to pelt the outer walls of the airbase with stones for several hours, shouting "down with America" and other slogans, despite the bitter cold.

The crowd swelled to between two and three thousand, and police stationed on roads leading to the base turned back other would-be protestors from further away, according to Parwan provincial police chief General Mohammad Akram Bekzad.

Any destruction of, or damage to, Islam's holy book is an extremely sensitive issue in Afghanistan, and has sparked violent and sometimes deadly riots in the past.

As details of the apparent burning emerged, a speedy and unusually heartfelt statement was issued by the top US and Nato general in Afghanistan, apologising and promising an inquiry – seemingly designed to try and contain the spreading outrage.

"I assure you ... I promise you ... this was NOT intentional in any way," General John Allen said in a statement addressed to the "noble people of Afghanistan".

Copies of the Qur'an taken from prisoners at the airbase had been handed over for incineration late on Monday, and were spotted by Afghan workers, according to Afghan and western officials.

It is routine practice to burn waste documents on military bases in Afghanistan, and police chief Bekzad said the copies of the Qur'an were discarded together with many other papers.

A spokesman for coalition forces, Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Cummings, said the books were sent for incineration by mistake, but declined to further comment pending the results of the investigation.

"The decision to burn had nothing to do with the material being religious in nature or related to Islam … it was an error."

He said coalition forces were not yet sure how much religious material had been sent for incineration and whether any Qur'ans had actually been burned before the Afghan workers intervened.

Haji Ahmad Zaki Zahed, head of the Parwan provincial council, said 17 copies of the Qur'an were rescued after they had been set alight but before the flames fully took hold.

"I talked with five representatives of the workers who showed me the pieces of the holy book, which I saw for myself were partly burned," he said.

When US pastor Terry Jones burned a copy of the Qur'an last year , it triggered deadly protests across Afghanistan.

Nine people were killed and more than 80 injured in a riot in southern Kandahar city, and in normally peaceful northern Mazar-e-Sharif, an angry crowd overran a United Nations compound and killed seven foreign employees, slitting the throat of one.

In response to the latest incident, protesters said they wanted to meet with President Karzai on Tuesday evening or they would return to the gates of Bagram on Wednesday morning.

"I will decide whether to go back to my job when I get the results of the investigation," said 27-year-old protester Rahmatullah Nazari, who has worked inside Bagram airbase for nine years.

He said troops had tried to burn a vehicle with over 1,000 copies of the Qur'an inside, although both western and Afghan officials said the number was much lower. The figure was a reminder that rumours about desecration can also spread as fast as anger.

Nazari said he joined around 200 other protesters when he turned up at 3am for his shift, and found the base gates locked. By 6 or 7am, despite the bitter cold, that had swelled to more than 1,000.

"The people were very emotional, tempers were high. Why did the Americans do this?"

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