Muslims' Anti-American Protests Spread From Afghanistan

By CARLOTTA GALL

New York Times

May 14, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan, May 13 - Thousands of Muslims, from Gaza to Pakistan to Indonesia, emerged from prayer services on Friday to join Afghans in rapidly spreading protests over the reported desecration of a Koran by American interrogators at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

In Afghanistan, at least 8 people were killed and more than 40 injured in clashes, bringing the death toll over four days of anti-American rioting to at least 16, with more than 100 injured. For the first time a policeman was killed in the violence.

Three protesters were killed and 23 people wounded as the police grappled with a crowd of more than 1,500 in Baharak, in far northeastern Badakhstan, the police chief of the province, Gen. Shah Jehan Nuri, said in a telephone interview. Ten police officers and members of the border police, who are based in the town, were among the injured, he said.

In three Pakistan cities, Peshawar, Quetta and Multan, hundreds of protesters led largely by religious parties burned American flags and chanted anti-American slogans after Friday Prayer. The protests were peaceful, though, thanks in large part to the large numbers of police officers deployed outside mosques and official buildings.

Hundreds of people gathered peacefully outside a mosque in Jakarta on Friday while a statement was read condemning the United States for the reported abuses. In Gaza, about 1,500 members of the radical Islamic group Hamas marched through the Jabaliya refugee camp as outrage spread over the reports, including a brief item in Newsweek, that interrogators at Guantánamo Bay had flushed a Koran down the toilet in an effort to upset detainees.

Protesters carrying the green banners of Islam and Hamas shouted, "Protect our holy book!" Some burned American and Israeli flags. Anti-American protests are rare among militant Palestinians, who decry American support for Israel but emphasize that their struggle is with Israel, not the United States.

The White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said Friday that officials at the Department of Defense were investigating reports of the desecration, and that "they take such allegations very seriously," but he did not indicate when the investigation would be completed, Reuters reported. "We will not tolerate any disrespect for the holy Koran," he added.

In Afghanistan, where the protests began Wednesday, the violence seemed to be spreading, with demonstrations in several provincial towns. Police officers and Afghan National Army troops were prepared in many places but still had trouble quelling the violence, which was directed at the government and international organizations.

The protest in Baharak formed as men emerged from the mosque after Friday Prayer and moved on the offices of three international aid organizations. They looted and burned the office of Focus Humanitarian Assistance, which is financed by the Agha Khan, and broke into offices of a British organization, Afghanaid. Some in the crowd were armed and masked, General Nuri said.

The fighting lasted for two hours. "The main issue was the insulting of the Koran, but unfortunately among the protesters there were some anti-government people, and criminals and robbers, who don't want peace and stability," the commander said.

Violent clashes were also reported in Ghazni, southwest of Kabul, where hundreds of protesters tried to storm the governor's office. Officials told The Associated Press that two protesters and a policeman were killed. Twenty people were injured as police officers and Afghan National Army troops opened fire to quell the riot, according to Bakhtar, the government news agency. Residents said three civilians were killed as well, but that account could not be confirmed. Local officials refused to comment on the situation.

The Bakhtar agency said that several people were arrested, and that the violence had been organized by extremist groups. Some of the armed people were from outside the province, it said.

One protester was killed and one wounded in Qala-i-Nau, in Badghis Province, where a crowd of some 1,000 people gathered outside the offices of the United States-based aid group, World Vision, and of Malteser. a German group backed by the Knights of Malta.

"Police fired in the air to disperse the crowd, and as a result one man was killed and one injured," the local police chief, Amir Shah Nayebzada, said in a telephone interview.

Four protesters were wounded, one seriously, in Gardez, southeast of the capital, Bakhtar reported. Other news agencies reported that one protester was killed and that American forces were deployed to protect the United Nations mission in the town.

Small gatherings took place in Kabul but remained peaceful. One of the most eminent religious leaders and loyal supporters of the government, Sebaghatullah Mojadeddi, led prayers at Kabul's main mosque, Hajji Yaqub. "We respect the Koran and support those who demonstrate," he said in his remarks. "But we want peaceful demonstrations."

Across town in Wazir Akbar Khan, an affluent residential area, Mullah Mohammad Ayaz Niazi, 39, called on people not to turn to violence, and for the police and security forces also to show restraint. "When our brothers are losing control, they should treat them very carefully," he said. "They should not punish them by bullet or sword, because that will be more dangerous."

Steven Erlanger contributed reporting from Jerusalem for this article and Salman Masood from Islamabad, Pakistan.