By DEB RIECHMANN
Muslim holy books that were burned in a pile of garbage at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan had been removed from a library at a nearby detention center because they contained extremist messages or inscriptions, a western military official said Tuesday.
The military official with knowledge of the incident said it appeared that the Qurans 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.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the incident.
Parwan Detention Facility adjoins Bagram Air Field, a sprawling U.S. base north of Kabul, where more than 2,000 angry Afghans demonstrated against the incident.
The burning stoked anti-foreign sentiment that already is on the rise after a decade of war in Afghanistan. It also fueled the arguments of Afghans who claim foreign troops are not respectful of their culture or Islamic religion.
“Die, die, foreigners!” the demonstrators shouted. Some fired rifles into the air. Others threw rocks at the gate of the base and set tires ablaze.
U.S. Gen. John Allen, the top commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, apologized to the Afghan people and said the books were inadvertantly given to troops for burning.
“It was not a decision that was made because they were religious materials,” Allen told NATO TV. “It was not a decision that was made with respect to the faith of Islam. It was a mistake. It was an error. The moment we found out about it we immediately stopped and we intervened.”
The military official said that several hundred Islamic publications, including Qurans, were removed from the library. Some of the publications had extremist content; others had extremist messages on their pages, the official said. The official said the documents were charred and burnt,but that none of them were completely destroyed.
“We will look into the reason those materials were gathered,” Allen said. “We will look into the manner in which the decision was made to dispose of them in this manner.” Allen said he would issue an order spelling out how Islamic religious materials should be handled by the coalition.
“This was unintentional,” he said, adding that no member of the coalition deliberately set out to defame Islam or descecrate the religious materials of the faith.
In a statement, Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the incident and appointed a delegation to investigate. He said initial reports were that four Qurans were burned.
Early Tuesday, as word of the incident spread, about 100 demonstrators gathered outside the base in Parwan province. As the crowd grew, so did the outrage. One protester, Mohammad Hakim, said if U.S. forces can’t bring peace to Afghanistan, they should go home.
“They should leave Afghanistan rather than disrespecting our religion, our faith,” Hakim said. “They have to leave and if next time they disrespect our religion, we will defend our holy Quran, religion and faith until the last drop of blood has left in our body.”