Qur'an burning protests: Nato recalls staff after two officers are shot dead
Damien Pearse and agencies
February 25, 2012, 8:53 AM EST
Two American officers are killed at Afghanistan interior ministry as death toll in riots reaches at least 28
Nato has recalled all staff from government ministries in Afghanistan after two officers were shot dead in Kabul amid riots over the burning of Qur'ans at a US military base.
Two Americans – believed to be a major and a colonel – were killed at the heavily guarded interior ministry in the capital, where they worked.
General John Allen, the commander of Nato and US forces in Afghanistan, said he was recalling Nato personnel from the ministries in the capital Kabul "for obvious force protection reasons".
He said Nato was investigating the latest shooting and would pursue all leads to find the person responsible.
"The perpetrator of this attack is a coward whose actions will not go unanswered," the general added.
The shootings came as the death toll in anti-western riots across the east of Afghanistan rose to at least 28.
A spokeswoman for Nato's International Security Assistance Force confirmed two of its servicemen had been shot dead but declined to say if the killer was a member of the Afghan military or police.
Afghanistan's Taliban movement claimed responsibility for the shootings, which it said were in retaliation for the desecration of the Qur'ans at Bagram airfield, north of Kabul.
In a statement, the Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the gunman was an insurgent named Abdul Rahman. He said that an accomplice in the ministry helped the gunman to get inside the compound.
The interior ministry is responsible for Afghanistan's police and security forces.
Early reports suggested that the two officers were shot in the ministry's command and control centre.
The British embassy in Kabul has withdrawn civilian mentors and advisers from the 20 government ministries and other institutions in the city as a temporary measure, the Foreign Office said on Saturday.
Elsewhere, protesters threw rocks at police, government buildings and a UN office following news that Qur'ans had been thrown into a fire pit used to burn rubbish at the Bagram base.
Four Afghans were killed in Kunduz province on Saturday and three in Logar, police said.
The US president, Barack Obama, said the burning was a terrible mistake, but the incident has sent thousands into the streets in this deeply religious country.
Hundreds of demonstrators staged peaceful protests in Nangarhar and Paktia provinces, but ones in Laghman, Kunduz and Logar provinces turned violent.
Laghman's police chief, Abdul Rahman Sarjang, said about 1,000 protesters threw stones at Afghan security forces, smashed windows of government buildings and tried to attack the governor's house in the provincial capital of Mehterlam. He said gunmen were among the protesters, but police did not fire their weapons into the crowd or the air because they did not want to incite the crowd further.
Mohammad Jawad, a university student who helped transport injured protesters to the hospital, said at least 20 people were wounded, mostly by bullets.
"Security forces opened fire on the crowd," he said.
In Kunduz, the capital of Kunduz province in north-east Afghanistan, more than 1,000 people protested, throwing stones at government buildings and a UN office, said the police spokesman Sarwer Hussaini. Officers fired guns into the air to try to disperse the crowd, he said.
Dr Saad Mukhtar, the health department director in Kunduz, said a number of protesters had died and 50 were injured during the demonstration.