First Death in Koran Furor as Thousands Protest in Afghanistan

Friday, 10 Sep 2010 06:57 AM

 

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Count the first fatality in the international furor resulting from the threat of a radical Florida pastor to burn copies of the Koran as German troops shot a protester and several others were wounded outside a German-run NATO base Friday.

The incident was among several as thousands of angry Muslims took to the streets across Afghanistan, some threatening to attack U.S. bases, because of the pastor's on-again, off-again plan to burn Korans Saturday to commemorate the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

NATO said it is investigating the incident at the base. Demonstrations later spread to the capital, Kabul, and at least four other provinces.

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

But Jones, head of the Dove World Outreach Center, later accused a Muslim leader of lying to him about moving a planned Islamic center 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."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates had called Jones directly to urge him not to go ahead, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. Gates expressed "grave concern" in the brief telephone call with Jones that the Koran burning "would put the lives of our forces at risk, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan".

A crowd, which a government official estimated at 10,000, 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 spokesman for the provincial government said.

Afghan security forces rushed to the scene to restore order, and three police were hurt when stones the crowd was hurling hit them, the spokesman said.

A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Kabul the force is aware of the Faizabad protests and were checking the incident.

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

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 Muhammad in 2005.

'We Will Attack U.S. Bases,' Muslim Cleric Warns

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 labeled the plan dangerous. "Muslims are ready to sacrifice their sons, fathers and mothers for Islam and the Koran," 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 a mosque planned for a site in New York near the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks would be moved.

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

The proposed location of the New York center has drawn opposition from many Americans who say it is insensitive to families of victims of the attacks that killed nearly 3,000.

Jones said he would fly to New York with Musri on Saturday to meet the New York imam at the center of the controversy, Feisal Abdul Rauf.

Sharif el-Gamal, project developer for the New York mosque, said in a statement it was untrue the centre was to be moved.

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 U.S. State Department issued a warning to Americans travelling overseas.

A spokesman 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 U.N. diplomat in Afghanistan said protests could force the delay of parliamentary elections set for Sept. 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.

 

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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