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Rumor sparks anti-American protests

A Koran-burning incident in Afghanistan prompts demonstrations in Kabul.

 According to villagers from Khwajagan village, an American tank hit an improvised explosive device (IED) just outside their town. The soldiers then began a house-to-house search, they said, and, not finding the insurgents who planted the mine, directed their wrath by seizing and burning six copies of the Koran.

“We saw the burned Korans,” said Khwaja Qandol, who lives in the village. “The Americans went to Khwaja Fazlurahman’s house, where only women were at home, and they took six Korans from a cabinet and burned them in the middle of the room. Four of the women witnessed this and told us about it. We went and saw that the Korans had really been burned.”

This version of events is completely rejected by the U.S. Forces-Afghanistan.

“There was no incident in which ISAF forces burned Korans in Wardak,” said Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, of the U.S. Forces-Afghanistan public affairs office. “ISAF and Afghan forces conducted an investigation of the incident and determined that ‘the enemies of Afghanistan,’ as reported by local authorities, were responsible for the burning.”

Shahidullah Shahid, spokesman for the governor of Wardak, confirmed that Korans were burned, but assigned blame to three local youths who, he said, were addicted to hashish.

“We have begun a serious investigation into this incident,” he said. “The U.S. forces in Wardak respect the people’s culture and traditions. Last week they provided dozens of copies of the Koran as well as prayer-cloths to the local council in Jalrez district.”

But another government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the Americans were indeed behind the incident.

“The government of Wardak is hiding this incident in order to avoid problems,” he said.

The provincial government did appear eager to protect the Americans, something confirmed by the U.S. forces spokesperson.

“A mullah from the local Afghan National Army unit addressed people in Wardak earlier this week,” said Mathias. “In his comments, the mullah … described how the Taliban has used this tactic of burning the Holy Koran then blaming international forces to inflame the public in several provinces, and that these actions disrespect Islam and Afghanistan.”

Whatever the truth of the matter, Afghans seemed only too eager to believe the worst. Within days the news had spread throughout the country. Protests began in the capital of Wardak, Maidan Shahr. On Oct. 17, hundreds of students and residents marched in what they said was a peaceful protest against the insult to the Koran. They blocked the main road, which links Kandahar to Kabul, for more than three hours.