Afghan Taliban claim killing of NATO staff; Anti-U.S. protests rage for a fifth day

Two American members of the NATO force in Afghanistan were shot dead within the interior ministry in Kabul. (Reuters)

At least three demonstrators were killed Saturday, medical sources said, as protesters tried to storm a U.N. compound in northern Afghanistan in Two American members of the NATO force in Afghanistan were shot dead within the interior ministry in Kabul Saturday, military and government sources said, as anti-U.S. protests raged for a fifth day.

“Initial reports indicate an individual turned his weapon against International Security Assistance Force service members in Kabul City today, killing two service members,” NATO said in a statement, without giving further details.

A government source told AFP the two men were American advisors and that they were shot within the Afghan interior ministry in Kabul by a member of the Afghan police.

“There was a shooting inside the command and control center of the interior ministry and two Americans have been killed,” the source told AFP, requesting anonymity.

Some reports said the shooting was a result of a “verbal clash”.

The shooting came on the fifth day of anti-U.S. protests across Afghanistan over the burning of Qurans at an American-run military base, but it was not immediately clear whether the ministry shooting was related to the demonstrations.

The U.S., which leads a 130,000-strong military force fighting an insurgency in Afghanistan, has advisors throughout the Afghan government.

Two American troops were shot dead on Thursday when an Afghan soldier turned his weapon on them at their base in Khogyani in eastern Nangarhar province as demonstrators approached.

On Saturday, at least four people were killed in violent protests, including an attack on a United Nations compound, taking the five day death toll from the protests to 28.

The Quran burning has inflamed anti-Western sentiment already smoldering in Afghanistan over abuses by U.S.-led foreign troops, such as the release last month of a video showing US Marines urinating on the corpses of dead Afghans.

Apologies and calls for restraint

President Barrack Obama was Thursday forced to apologize over the burning of Qurans at the Bagram U.S. airbase north of Kabul, pledging that those responsible would be held accountable.

President Hamid Karzai’s government and the U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan have appealed for calm and restraint, fearful that Taliban insurgents are trying to exploit the anti-American backlash.

The circumstances surrounding the Quran incident are still subject to investigation. But U.S. officials told AFP the military removed the books from a prison at Bagram because inmates were suspected of using them to pass messages.

Violent anti-U.S. protests have seen furious Afghans attack French, Norwegian and U.S. bases, shouting “death to America” after the Taliban exhorted their countrymen to kill foreign troops to avenge the incident.

There were fresh protests in five different Afghan provinces Saturday over the burning of the Islamic holy book at the U.S. airbase at Bagram near Kabul.

The worst violence was in northeastern Kunduz province, where thousands attempted to storm the U.N. complex but failed to get in when police fired into the crowd at around 2:00 pm (0930 GMT), an AFP correspondent at the scene said.

Officers had so far managed to stop the crowd from entering the compound, police spokesman Sarwar Husaini told AFP, adding that reinforcements were being sent to protect the premises.

A U.N. spokeswoman confirmed the attack but refused to say how many U.N. staff were on site at the time. Some reports said a group of staff had sheltered in a specially reinforced “safe room” in the complex.

In Mihtarlam, in the central province of Laghman, hospital officials told AFP 15 protesters had been brought in with gunshot wounds.

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