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16 Dead in Afghan Riots Over Florida Quran Burning

Sixteen are dead after two days of rioting in Afghanistan following last month's Quran burning by Florida pastor Terry Jones.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 4/3/2011, 12:40 PM / Last Update: 4/3/2011, 1:18 PM

At least five people have been killed in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar as violent protests over the burning of a Quran by Florida Pastor Terry Jones enter their second day, a Afghan government spokesman said on Saturday. The deaths in Kandahar bring the death toll to sixteen.

A suicide attack also targeted a NATO military base in the capital Kabul on Saturday, the day after protesters overran a UN mission in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, killing seven foreign staff in the worst ever attack on the UN in Afghanistan. Four more were killed in the Mazar-i-Sharif riot when Afghan security forces turned their rifles on the rioting crowd.

On Friday, a group of approximately 150 men took to the streets to denounce the Quran burning and set tires alight, smashed shop windows and attacked a photographer, witnesses told Reuters. The reporter was hit over the head, had his camera taken and smashed, and was seized up by protesters who discussed killing him.

Police kept other journalists from approaching the crowd, which was shouting slogans that included "death to America."

Saturday's attack on the NATO base in Kabul was conducted by a small group of burka-clad insurgents who only succeeded in causing light injuries to three soldiers, police and NATO spokesmen said.

The spokesman for Kandahar province said the protest was organized by the Taliban who used the Quran burning as an excuse to incite violence in a city where their reach has been curtailed by an aggressive NATO-led military campaign.

"The demonstration in Kandahar was planned by insurgents to take advantage of the situation and to create insecurity," said Zalmay Ayoubi, spokesman for the Kandahar provincial governor. He put the toll at five and said 46 people had been wounded."

The violence ensuing from Jone's Koran burning was predicted by former CENTCOM commander Gen. David Patreus in 2010, "Even rhe rumor it might take place has sparked demonstrations such as the one in Kabul yesterday. Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult."

Patreus had also warned extremists would use images of the Qaran burning to incite violence.

More protests are possible across volatile and deeply religious Afghanistan, where anti-Western sentiment has been fuelled for years by civilian casualties.

Around 1,000 people protested peacefully in the northern province of Tahar, said Shah Jahan Noori, provincial police chief.

Jones: We Do Not Feel Responsible

Responding to the violence, Terry Jones said Saturday he did not feel responsible for the violent protest at the United Nations compound in Afghanistan or for the deaths that followed. Instead, he insisted the violence proved his point.

"We wanted to raise awareness of this dangerous religion and dangerous element," Jones said. "I think [today's attack] proves that there is a radical element of Islam."

As for the 11 dead, which included seven U.N. staffers and guards, Jones told "Nightline" anchor Bill Weir, "We do not feel responsible, no."

Obama Decries Both Sides

President Barack Obama said on Saturday the killings in Afghanistan after Jones' Quran burning were "outrageous" while calling the burning itself an act of bigotry.

"The desecration of any holy text, including the Quran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry," Obama said in an official White House statement. "However, to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous, and an affront to human decency and dignity."

"No religion tolerates the slaughter and beheading of innocent people," Obama insisted. "There is no justification for such a dishonorable and deplorable act. Now is a time to draw upon the common humanity that we share, and that was so exemplified by the U.N. workers who lost their lives trying to help the people of Afghanistan."

Obama did not address the long, documented history of mass beheadings of non-Muslim captives by Muslims dating back to the prophet Mohommed, who ordered the execution by decapitation of 700 men of the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe in Medina for allegedly plotting against him (Qur. 47:3). Such en masse beheadings have been commonplace even into modern times.

Nor did Obama see fit to address the fact that key-US ally Saudi Arabia employs beheading for a variety of offenses. Over the past two decades, the Saudis have decapitated at least 1,100 for alleged crimes ranging from drug running to witchcraft and apostasy.