Afghan clerics threaten Muslim holy war over Quran
Sun May 15, 2005 04:53 AM ET

FAIZABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A group of Afghan Muslim clerics threatened on Sunday to call for a holy war against the United States if it fails to hand over in three days military interrogators reported to have desecrated the Koran.

The warning came after 16 Afghans were killed and more than 100 hurt last week in the worst anti-U.S. protests across the country since U.S. forces invaded in 2001 to oust the Taliban for sheltering Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.

The clerics in the northeastern province of Badakhshan said they wanted President Bush to handle the matter honestly "and hand the culprits over to an Islamic country for punishment."

"If that does not happen within three days, we will launch a jihad against America," said a statement issued by about 300 clerics, referring to Muslim holy war, after meeting in a mosque in the provincial capital, Faizabad.

The statement was read out by Abdul Fatah Fayeq, the top judicial official in the mountainous, conservative province near the borders of Tajikistan and China.

Muslim clerics have traditionally been teachers and leaders in Afghan society and throughout its history they have rallied public opinion and sometimes led uprisings against unpopular rulers and foreign occupiers.

Newsweek magazine said in its May 9 edition investigators probing abuses at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay found that interrogators "had placed Korans on toilets, and in at least one case flushed a holy book down the toilet."

Muslims consider the Koran the literal word of God and treat each book with deep reverence.

The United States has tried to calm global Muslim outrage over the incident, saying disrespect for the Koran was abhorrent and would not be tolerated, and military authorities were investigating the allegation.

The protests began in the eastern city of Jalalabad on Tuesday. Violence broke out there on Wednesday and clashes occurred in several different places on Thursday and Friday. Scattered protests on Saturday were mostly peaceful.

Three people were killed and 21 hurt in Badakhshan on Friday.
While some Afghan analysts say Muslim rage over the desecration report sparked the protests, not hatred of America, there is growing resentment of U.S. troops, especially in southeastern areas where they are most active.

The United States commands a foreign force in Afghanistan of about 18,300, most of them American, fighting Taliban insurgents and hunting militant leaders, including bin Laden.

President Hamid Karzai, a staunch U.S. ally, has urged the United States to punish anyone found guilty of desecrating the Koran. He said foreign hands were behind the disturbances, but did not identify them.

The anti-U.S. protesters have also criticized Karzai and his U.S.-backed government, attacking and torching provincial offices and police stations as well as U.N. and aid agency compounds.

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