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The incident that set off the riots occurred Monday evening when guards removed several copies of the Koran and other religious texts from the prison library near Bagram air base where 2,000 prisoners are held. The Korans and other religious texts were transported to a burn bin on the air base itself where several contract laborers noticed the Korans and begged the soldiers not to burn them. According to Afghan police, some of the men reached into the oven and pulled out several copies of the Koran, most of them nearly destroyed. “I was ready to shed my blood and kill them or be killed,” said one of the laborers.
It is believed the reason the Korans were removed was because they contained “extremist messages” written in the margins. CBS reports:
The military official with knowledge of the incident said it appeared that the Qurans (Korans) and other Islamic readings were being used to fuel extremism, and that detainees at Parwan Detention Facility were writing on the documents to exchange extremist messages.
It is as much a sacrilege to write in a Koran as it is to burn it — a fact that is lost on the thousands of outraged Muslims who attacked police with cries of “Death to Foreigners” and “Down with America.”
Word of the burnings spread quickly, and by Tuesday, thousands were in the streets protesting. The demonstrations continued on Wednesday with protests in dozens of cities and towns across Afghanistan. The outrage was fueled by extremist clerics and even members of parliament, some of whom called for holy war against foreigners.
On Thursday, protesters attacked Camp Phoenix near the Kabul airport, burning tires and threatening to enter the facility. They were repulsed as helicopters dropped flares and Afghan police fired rubber bullets into the crowd. In another ominous sign, the Washington Post is reporting that many police officers in Kabul fully sympathize with the rioters. “Afghans and the world’s Muslims should rise against the foreigners. We have no patience left,” said one police officer in central Kabul. He added while nodding to his colleague, “We both will attack the foreign military people.”
The incident is being played for all it’s worth by the Taliban. The terrorists issued a statement on their website, saying the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan calls on all the youth present in the security apparatus of the Kabul regime to fulfill their religious and national duty… by turning their guns on the foreign infidel invaders.” The Taliban has been making tentative steps toward negotiating with the Kabul government, and despite the call for violence, some analysts believe the incident won’t sidetrack the delicate diplomacy involved in trying to reconcile the government and the terrorists.
The riots are fed by fundamentalist Muslims who are playing on the people’s frustration with the occupation and several recent incidents that outraged the populace. There was the incident in January of a video being released that showed US soldiers urinating on dead Taliban fighters. And just last week, a NATO air strike killed 8 young Afghans — an incident that elicited a stinging statement from Kabul.
What else can the US do? “The U.S. has pretty much done all it can do,” said Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation. “To a certain degree, all [the U.S.] can do now is wait for tempers to cool.” That may prove difficult. The mosques will be full on Friday and the behavior of crowds leaving the services will be closely watched. It could be the biggest and bloodiest day yet for protests. Or, tempers could indeed begin to cool and the situation could ease.
Few are betting on the latter.
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