Afghanistan civilians protest the US-NATO occupation of their country. In this photo residents of Paktia protests the killing of two neighbors by the imperialist occupationist forces., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
U.S. officers killed in Afghan Interior Ministry
By Hamid Shalizi
KABUL (Reuters) - Two Americans believed to be a U.S. colonel and major were shot dead in Afghanistan's interior ministry on Saturday, security sources said, while rage gripped the country for a fifth day over the burning of the Muslim holy book at a NATO base.
A spokeswoman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) confirmed two of their servicemen had been shot dead in central Kabul by an individual who turned his weapon on them. She declined to say if the killer was a member of the Afghan military or police.
Afghanistan's Taliban movement claimed responsibility for the shootings, which it said were in retaliation for the desecration of the Korans at Bagram airfield.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an e-mailed statement to the media that four high-ranking Americans had been killed, though the Islamist group often exaggerate and inflate claims of casualties.
The Koran burnings underscored the deep cultural divide that still exists more than 10 years after U.S. troops invaded to oust the Taliban and has deepened public mistrust of Western troops struggling to stabilize the country.
An Afghan security source said the shooting of the two Americans in the Interior Ministry could be connected to the burning of the Korans.
Muslims consider the Koran to be the literal word of God and treat each copy with deep reverence. Desecration is considered one of the worst forms of blasphemy.
Four Afghans were shot dead by Afghan security forces as demonstrators came out to the streets on Saturday, with an attempt by protesters to bombard a U.N. compound in the north.
Despite an apology from U.S. President Barack Obama and a call for restraint from Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, thousands have taken to the streets. Twelve people were killed and dozens wounded on Friday, the bloodiest day yet in demonstrations.
On Thursday, an Afghan national army soldier joined the protests and gunned down two American soldiers.
Hundreds of people tried to overrun a compound in the northern Kunduz province housing workers from the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), but were held back by police, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said.
A similar incident occurred in April last year when protesters angry over the burning of Korans by an obscure pastor in the United States stormed a U.N. compound in northern Balkh province, killing seven.
The protests could dent plans for a strategic pact that Washington is considering with Kabul, which would allow a sharply reduced number of Western troops to stay in the country, well beyond their combat exit deadline.
(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni, Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Michael Georgy and Sophie Hares)