Riots continue to sweep across Afghanistan in the wake of the revelation that copies of the Quran were burned at an American military base last week.
Muslims believe the Quran is so sacred, one must wash their hands before touching it. Desecration of the book is seen as a grave offense--burning it is seen as an act against God.
Attempts by the president and U.S. officials to diffuse the violent outbreak have had a negligible effect, as violent protests show now sign of easing up. The death toll continues to rise for U.S. troops and Afghan citizens alike, while scores of people have been wounded in attacks all across the country.
Afghan officials and religious leaders have called for an end to the violence, expressing fears that extremist groups would use the anger of the protesters for their own ends.
Several people were killed Monday when a car bomb was set off at an airport in eastern Afghanistan.
Worries that the Taliban would take advantage of the situation appear to be actualized, as the group has claimed responsibility for Monday's attack, as well as the deaths of two U.S. military officers Saturday. The two men are among the four Americans killed so far.
A U.S. lieutenant colonel and major were found in dead Saturday, both shot in the back of the head. The bodies were discovered in an office inside the heavily-fortified Interior Ministry, leading Afghan officials to believe the killer was an employee of the ministry.
Afghan police are searching for the suspect. In an unprecedented move, hundreds of NATO advisers have been called away from Afghan ministries as a safety precaution. U.S. advisers were ordered earlier in the week to remain within the U.S.embassy compound.
However, the White House said Monday that the violence in Afghanistan would not speed up their troop withdrawal timeline.
Seven U.S. service members were wounded Sunday amid the latest rash of protests by enraged Afghans. Sunday's demonstration began peacefully before deteriorating into violence; protests reportedly threw a hand grenade at a U.S. base, injuring military personnel believed to be Special Forces.
Two U.S. solders killed Thursday were identified over the weekend as Army Sgt. Joshua Born, 25, and Cpl. Timothy Conrad, 22. Both men were assigned to the 385th Military Police Battalion, 16th Military Police Brigade out of Fort Stewart, Georgia. The men were shot during a protest by a man in an Afghan National Army uniform.
"The people have the right to protest peacefully, but I appeal to my countrymen not to resort to violence," Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in a statement, saying he too felt the pain of the Quran's debasement, but wished for citizens to wait for an investigation into the incident to be completed. He has called on the U.S. to prosecute those found responsible.
In a letter to Karzai Thursday, President Obama said the U.S. government intends to do exactly that.
"We will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, including holding accountable those responsible," Obama wrote.
Gen. John Allen, the commander of NATO's ISAF, says it was a tragic error, that copies of the Quran were inadvertently burned when mistakenly taken to a garbage burn pit.
""It was not a decision that was made with respect to the faith of Islam," Allen said. "It was a mistake. It was an error. The moment we found out about it, we immediately stopped and we intervened."
A military official has said the copies of the Quran burned had been removed from the detainee center's library in the first place because they were being used to "facilitate extremist communications," but were not meant to be discarded in the manner they were.
An Afghan religious scholar tells CNN even if the Quran burnings were a mistake, it did not lessen the severity of the action.
"I can't tell you whether Americans intentionally burned the copies of the holy Quran to make Muslims angry or if they did it mistakenly," Anayatullah Baligh told CNN, but " [their] carelessness" was "a crime they have committed against the holiest book of 2 billion Muslims around the world."
A senior Pentagon official addressed U.S. Muslims Friday, making a speech at the ADAMS Center near Washington D.C., one of the largest mosques in the country. In the speech, Peter Lavoy apologized to the Muslim community numerous times, and promised a thorough investigation.
The executive director of the ADAMS Center said the session with Lavoy was partially intended to show Muslims worldwide that U.S. Muslims were going to maintain a civil dialogue over their concerns about the incident, and not resort to violence.
"Absolutely the violence we have seen is unacceptable from an Islamic perspective," Imam Mohamed Magid said.
Outraged Afghans have called for foreigners to leave their country, many saying if U.S. forces are going to incite violence rather than bring peace, they have no business remaining in Afghanistan. Some have called for the offenders to face a public trial.
Others have gone a step further, with many protests featuring those chanting sentiments such as "Death to America."
Not all Afghan citizens have reacted with violence; protests in northern provinces largely remained peaceful.
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