Qu’ran-burning: US bases threatened

2010-09-10 14:16

Kabul - Thousands of angry Muslims took to the streets across Afghanistan on Friday, some threatening to attack US bases, prompted by a plan by a US pastor to burn copies of the Qu’ran.

One protester was shot dead and several were wounded outside a German-run Nato base in northeast Afghanistan and Nato said it was investigating. Demonstrations later spread to the capital, Kabul, and at least four other provinces.

Terry Jones, Christian pastor of a small church in Gainesville, Florida, called off the Qu’ran-burning plans after drawing international condemnation and a warning from President Barack Obama that it could provoke al-Qaeda suicide bombings and other Islamist violence around the world.

But Jones, head of the Dove World Outreach Centre, later accused a Muslim leader of lying to him about moving a planned Islamic centre in New York.

"Given what we are now hearing, we are forced to rethink our decision," he told CNN. "So as of right now, we are not cancelling the event, but we are suspending it."

1000s protest in Afghanistan

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates had called Jones directly to urge him not to go ahead, a Pentagon official said.

Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell said Gates had expressed "grave concern" in the brief telephone call with Jones that the Qu’ran burning "would put the lives of our forces at risk, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan".

A crowd, estimated at 10 000 by a government official, poured out of mosques into the streets of Faizabad, the capital of Badakhshan in Afghanistan's northeast, after special prayers for Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

One protester was shot dead when a smaller group attacked a German-run Nato base in Faizabad, hurling stones at the outpost, a spokesperson for the provincial government said.

Afghan security forces rushed to the scene to restore order and three police were hurt when hit by stones thrown by the crowd, the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force in Kabul said ISAF was aware of protests happening in Faizabad and were checking the incident.

Eight Christian aid workers were killed by unidentified gunmen in remote and rugged Badakhshan last month.

Threats of attacks on troops
Several hundred gathered in a northern district of Kabul, while about 2 000 marched on a government building in western Farah, officials and witnesses said. There were also protests in nearby Badghis in the northwest and Ghor and Herat in the west.

Similar protests over perceived desecration of Muslim symbols have led to dozens of deaths in Afghanistan in recent years, including after a Danish newspaper published a cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammad in 2005.

In eastern Nangahar, tribal chiefs threatened to attack Nato bases near the Pakistan border if Jones went ahead with the plan.

"If they do this, we will attack American bases and close the highway used by convoys supplying American troops," a cleric named Zahidullah told Reuters.

At mosques in the capital, clerics also labelled the plan dangerous. "Muslims are ready to sacrifice their sons, fathers and mothers for Islam and the Qu’ran," one preacher said at one Kabul mosque to cries of "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest).

Jones said he had spoken to Imam Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, and had been assured that an Islamic centre planned for a site in New York near Ground Zero would be moved.

Musri and the sponsor of the New York mosque later denied such an agreement had been reached.

Global condemnation

World leaders joined Obama in denouncing Jones's plan to burn copies of the Islamic holy book on Saturday.

The international police agency Interpol warned governments worldwide of an increased risk of terrorist attacks if the burning went ahead, and the US State Department issued a warning to Americans travelling overseas.

A spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry condemned the planned action as "a provocative and satanic act", according to Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency.

On Thursday, the top UN diplomat in Afghanistan said protests could force the delay of parliamentary elections set for September 18.

The polls are seen as a key test of stability in Afghanistan before Obama conducts a war strategy review in December. Obama has said the plan, dismissed by conservatives and liberals alike as an attention-seeking stunt, would be a "recruitment bonanza" for al-Qaeda.

Obama has sought to improve relations with the world's 1.5 billion Muslims.

The United States has powerful legal protections for the right to free speech and there was little law enforcement authorities could do to stop Jones from going ahead, other than citing him under local bylaws against public burning.