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Thursday, February 23

Afghan Koran burning riots, Day 3: New York Times report

Ms. Aziz, along with many educated Afghans, some of whom registered their views on Facebook, said she was dismayed by the exploitation of the [Koran burning] incident for political gain and accused Iran and Pakistan of behind-the-scenes manipulation. Both countries would like to see the American military under pressure, and the reaction to the Koran burning has accomplished that.

Mohammed Salih Suljoqi, a lawmaker from Herat, said the episode “has been used as a tool of propaganda.”

“The noble and pure emotions of our fellow countrymen are being misused by the intelligence agencies of neighboring countries,” he said, adding that some groups “are trying to destabilize the situation and lead the country into chaos.”

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I want take this opportunity to give a shout out and prayer for Alissa J. Rubin and all the Times reporters and their Afghan colleagues who routinely risk their lives to report on crucial situations. And my prayers to the families of the two American soldiers who were murdered because of the Koran burning situation.

I was troubled to learn from the following Times report that Nato has not completed its investigation of the burning of the Korans. They'd led the public to believe the investigation would be complete and the findings announced by Thursday -- a hastily set deadline that's now backfiring. The original idea was that the report would be available before Friday's mosque prayers in Afghanistan.

Now Friday's rioting will dwarf what's happened so far if Afghan forces don't find some way to get a handle on the situation.

Obama sends apology as Afghan Koran riots spread for third day
Alissa J. Rubin
February 23-24, 2012
The New York Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — The potential scope of the fallout from the burning of several copies of the Koran by American military personnel this week became chillingly clear on Thursday as a man in an Afghan Army uniform shot and killed two American soldiers, while a crowd nearby protested the desecration of the Muslim holy book.

In the third successive day of deadly violence over the Koran burning, seven Afghans were killed in three provinces on Thursday and many more were injured, most in skirmishes with Afghan security forces. The Afghan government, which had responded slowly on the first day of protests, was in high gear on Thursday as officials tried to tamp down emotions ahead of the Friday day of prayer. Western and Afghan authorities feared that there could be emotional demonstrations after the prayer that the Taliban and extremist elements would try to exploit.

Afghan officials quoted from a letter from President Obama in which he, among other things, apologized for the Koran burning. For President Hamid Karzai, the episode has fast become a political thicket. He and other government officials share with the Afghan populace a visceral disgust for the way American soldiers treated the holy book, but they recognize that violent protests could draw lethal responses from the police or soldiers, setting off a cycle of violence.

Complicating matters is that some of Mr. Karzai’s allies in Parliament and elsewhere, including former mujahedeen leaders, have openly encouraged people to take to the streets and attack NATO forces. Mr. Karzai has not spoken out against them publicly, but his government’s overall message on Thursday suggested that he did not want more violence.

Mr. Karzai met with members of both houses of Parliament at the presidential palace and urged them to help to try to contain the protests.

“The president said that ‘according to our investigation we have found that American soldiers mistakenly insulted the Koran and we will accept their apology,’ ” said Fatima Aziz, a lawmaker from Kunduz who attended the meeting.

“He said, ‘Whoever did this should be punished, and they should avoid its repetition. Insulting holy books and religion is not acceptable at all.’ ”

Mr. Aziz, who said she wept when told of the Koran burning, also said Mr. Karzai told Parliament members that the protesters’ violent response was “‘not proper.’ ”

Ms. Aziz, along with many educated Afghans, some of whom registered their views on Facebook, said she was dismayed by the exploitation of the incident for political gain and accused Iran and Pakistan of behind-the-scenes manipulation. Both countries would like to see the American military under pressure, and the reaction to the Koran burning has accomplished that.

The Taliban released two statements on Thursday: one urged Afghans to attack foreign troops and installations as well as Afghan forces who are defending them, and the second urged Afghan security forces to turn their guns on their NATO colleagues.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan calls on all the youth present in the security apparatus of the Kabul regime to fulfill their religious and national duty,” the statement said, “to repent for their past sins and to record their names with gold in the history books of Islam and Afghanistan by turning their guns on the foreign infidel invaders instead of their own people.”

Mohammed Salih Suljoqi, a lawmaker from Herat, said the episode “has been used as a tool of propaganda.”

“The noble and pure emotions of our fellow countrymen are being misused by the intelligence agencies of neighboring countries,” he said, adding that some groups “are trying to destabilize the situation and lead the country into chaos.”

“All these tragic incidents can spread a dark shadow and negatively impact the relationship of Afghanistan and the United States,” Mr. Suljoqi said.

President Karzai’s office quoted from what it called a letter of apology from Mr. Obama that was delivered Thursday by Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker to signal to the Afghan public that the United States understood the distress the episode had caused.

In the letter, according to Mr. Karzai’s press office, Mr. Obama wrote: “I wish to express my deep regret for the reported incident. I extend to you and the Afghan people my sincere apologies.” Mr. Obama’s office would not release the text of what it called a three-page letter on a “host of issues” between the two countries, “several sentences of which relate to this issue.”

One of the Republican candidates for president, Newt Gingrich, issued a statement that lambasted Mr. Obama for his apology, calling it an “outrage.”

“It is Hamid Karzai who owes the American people an apology, not the other way around,” the statement said.

Five Afghans were killed in confrontations with the police, four in Oruzgan Province and one in Baghlan Province. In Nangarhar Province, two Afghans who were protesting the Koran burning, were shot to death outside an American base in Khogyani District, according to Mujib Rahman, the doctor on duty at the hospital in the district center.

It was unclear whether they were shot by Afghan soldiers or NATO troops, but a NATO spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. James Williams, said that NATO troops would shoot only if they were in mortal danger, and that they were not in mortal danger from the protesters.

About the same time as the protest and the shootings outside the base, an Afghan Army soldier turned his gun on NATO soldiers at the base, according to other protesters and elders. Two American soldiers were killed.Mr. Karzai and his team of religious leaders and elders whom he had assigned to investigate how the Koran burning came about, released a statement calling for restraint by the Afghan people and demanding that those responsible be tried swiftly.

“In view of the particular security situation in the country, we call on all our Muslim citizens of Afghanistan to exercise self-restraint and extra vigilance in dealing with the issue and avoid resorting to protests and demonstrations,” that could be used by extremist groups to incite violence, the statement said, adding that NATO officials had “agreed that the perpetrators of the crime be brought to justice as soon as possible” in an open trial.

A NATO spokesman said he could not comment; a NATO inquiry into the burning continues.

Reporting was contributed by Sangar Rahimi, Sharifullah Sahak and Jawad Sukhanyar from Kabul, and an employee of The New York Times from Nangarhar Province.

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