4 more Afghans killed in anti-U.S. protests
Alleged desecration of Quran at center of anger


Updated: 10:24 a.m. ET May 13, 2005 KABUL, Afghanistan - Police and demonstrators clashed on Friday, killing at least four people, as protests over allegations that interrogators at the U.S prison in Guantanamo Bay desecrated Islam’s holy book spread to more Afghan cities, officials and witnesses said.

Three men died when police opened fire to control hundreds of protesters attacking the offices of two relief groups in Baharak district of northeastern Badakhshan province, Gov. Abdul Majid told the Associated Press. Another 22 people were hurt, including three police officers, he said.

Another man died in the far northwest when police opened fire during a demonstration in Qala-e-Naw, capital of Badghis province, provincial police chief Amir Shah Naibzada told AP.

The shootings raised the death toll to at least 11 this week in the biggest anti-American protests in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

The trigger of the unrest was a brief report in the May 9 edition of Newsweek magazine that interrogators at the U.S. prison on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, placed Qurans in washrooms to unsettle suspects, and in one case “flushed a holy book down the toilet.”

Desecration of the Quran is punishable by death in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, but diplomats and officials have been taken aback by the intense reaction — further enflamed by bloodshed in a police crackdown on anti-U.S. protesters in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday that left four dead and over 70 wounded.

Rice weighs in
On Thursday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice promised “appropriate action” would be taken if the allegations are proven true, while key U.S. ally Saudi Arabia urged that any offenders be quickly disciplined.

Firebrand Muslim clerics in Pakistan also lashed out at the United States on Friday over the allegations.

A hard-line opposition Islamic coalition, Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, or MMA, had appealed for Muslims to protest in major cities after Friday prayers, but in Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta, Multan and Karachi no more than a few hundred turned out.

“By insulting the Quran, they have challenged our belief. We are hurt ... If we don’t rise against Americans, if we don’t give them a strong message today, they will do it again,” cleric Hafiz Hussain Ahmad, an MMA leader, told worshippers at a mosque in the Pakistani capital. He also urged people to prepare themselves for a jihad, or holy war.

U.S. officials have tried to calm tempers, insisting that all inmates at Guantanamo, many of them Pakistanis and Afghans captured after the Sept. 11 attacks, are given Qurans, prayer beads and time to pray.

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