Qurans Burned in Afghanistan Reportedly Contained Extremist Messages

By DEB RIECHMANN | February 21, 2012 | 4:54 AM EST
Update: A military official says Muslim holy books that were burned in a pile of garbage at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan had been removed from a library at a nearby detention center because they contained extremist messages or inscriptions. A military official with knowledge of the incident told The Associated Press on Tuesday that it appeared the Qurans and other Islamic readings were being used to fuel extremism, and that detainees apparently were leaving notes for one another inside them. The official, who did not want his nationality disclosed, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the incident. The top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan says the books were inadvertently given to troops for burning.

Gen. John Allen, the U.S. commander of international troops in Afghanistan, ordered an investigation into a Quran-burning incident at Bagram Air Field north of Kabul, on Feb. 21, 2012. (AP Photo)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - More than 2,000 angry Afghans, some firing guns in the air, protested on Tuesday against the improper disposal and burning of Qurans and other Islamic religious materials at an American air base.

Gen. John Allen, the U.S. commander of international troops in Afghanistan, has ordered an investigation into the incident.

The demonstrators -- shouting "Die, die, foreigners!" -- started gathering in the morning after learning of the incident at the sprawling Bagram Air Field in Parwan province. As the crowd grew, so did the outrage.

Ahmad Zaki Zahed, chief of the provincial council, said U.S. military officials gave him about 30 Qurans and other religious books that were recovered before they were destroyed.

"Some are burned. Some are not burned," Zahed said, adding that the books were used by detainees once incarcerated at the base.

The materials were in trash that two soldiers with the U.S.-led coalition transported in a truck late Monday night to a pit where garbage is burned on the base, according to Zahed, who spoke with five Afghans working at the pit. He said that when the workers noticed the religious books in the trash, they stopped the disposal process.

Allen said he received a report overnight that "a large number of Islamic religious materials, which included Qurans," had been improperly disposed of at the base.

"We are thoroughly investigating the incident and are taking steps to ensure this does not ever happen again," Allen said in a statement. "I assure you, I promise you, this was not intentional in any way."

He offered his apologies to the president and people of Afghanistan and thanked the local Afghans "who helped us identify the error, and who worked with us to immediately take corrective action."

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Zia Ul Rahman, deputy provincial police chief, said between 2,000 and 2,500 protesters were demonstrating at the base.

"The people are very angry. The mood is very negative," Rahman said. "Some are firing hunting guns in the air, but there have been no casualties."

Police said a similar protest on Tuesday just east of Kabul ended peacefully.

In April 2011, Afghans protesting the burning of a Quran by a Florida pastor turned deadly when gunmen in the crowd stormed a U.N. compound in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif and killed three staffers and four Nepalese guards.