1 Apr 2011

Up to 20 UN staff killed ‘over Koran burning’

Up to 20 UN staff are killed in Afghanistan, after protests over the burning of a Koran in the US turned violent. The pastor who organised the burning tells Channel 4 News he’s not responsible.

The deaths occurred in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif after a demonstration over a burning of a Koran in Florida erupted into violence.

A police spokesman, Lal Mohhammed Ahmadzai, said that “eight foreigners were killed and one wounded when demonstrators stormed the (UN) office in Mazar-i-Sharif”. It was later reported that up to 20 UN staff may have been killed. Five demonstrators were also reported dead.

More than a thousand people had responded to calls for protests over the Koran burning and organised marches after Friday prayers. Several hours later violence broke out and a small group attacked the UN compound.

The Afghan governor for the province, Ata Mohhammed Noor, blamed the attacks on insurgent forces, saying they had taken advantage of the situation.

However a spokesman for the Afghan Taliban has told Channel 4 News tonight that local Afghans were responsible. Mullah Akbar, Taliban commander in Kunduz province said in a statement:

“We appreciate the spirit of the Afghan people in the name of Islam. Local Afghans staged this protest but we support them and we will continue to attack the foreign forces and their missions in Afghanistan.”

‘Not responsible’

The burning of the Koran – in a Florida chuch 10 days ago – was organised by Pastor Terry Jones, who had initially planned to carry out such an event on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks last September, but later called off the event in the face of international protests.

Interviewed by telephone by Channel 4 News, Pastor Jones said he did not feel responsible for the deaths in Afghanistan.

“What happened today is very tragic, but these type of things happen regularly in Muslim-dominated countries – that people are raped, they are killed, churches are burned,” he said.

“Of course they use that as an excuse to vent their anger, their hatred and their violence. I just think that we need to be really careful. We have to point the finger at the right person – at the right perpetrator – and that is of course the people who actually did the act.”

Five Afghan demonstrators were killed in the incident. One protestor claimed that the violence started after protestors attempted to disarm the UN guards, and the security forces opened fire on them.

At least 8 UN staff killed 'over Koran burning'

Ahmad Gul, teacher and resident of Mazar-i-Sharif said:

“We had a peaceful protest. We went to the UNAMA (United Nation Assistance Mission for Afghanistan) compound and tried to disarmed their guards by taking their guns away, so there will be no violence.

“But they still fired on us and wounded our people, two were killed and 14 were wounded.”

Police have said that of the eight foreigners killed, five were Nepalese UN guards and two other foreigners working at the compound. A third foreigner who was wounded died later.

Unconfirmed reports earlier stated that the dead included Norwegian, Swedish and Romanian staff. The UN chief in the city was also reported as being wounded but has survived.

The top UN representative in Afghanistan, Staffan De Mistura is heading to the city to handle the situation personally.

Thousands of other protestors marched in Herat and over two hundred marched in Kabul, but no violence was reported at either city.

Pastor Jones

When Pastor Jones initially declared he was going to burn the Islamic holy book, world leaders from President Obama to former Prime Minister Tony Blair were swift to condemn the move. Obama said the idea was “destructive” and eventually the pastor backed down from the burnings.

Channel 4 News spoke with him last year about a planned visit to the UK.

During the interview Jones declared that his church was not against the modern Muslim, but yet as a pastor he would have to consider Islam evil:

“We have always tried to make it clear, we here in America and I assume also in England, we are not against the modern Muslim.

“I’m a pastor, so we would definitely consider Islam evil.

“As a pastor we believe Jesus Christ is the only way, and that makes every other religion of course wrong.”

Jones had been invited to attend an English Defence League rally but in the end did not travel to the UK.