KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Shouting “Death to America,” demonstrators angry over the alleged desecration of the Quran at Guantanamo Bay smashed car and shop windows and stoned a passing convoy of U.S. soldiers Wednesday in eastern Afghanistan. Police opened fire on the protesters, killing four and injuring at least 71.
The U.S. troops fired into the air before quickly leaving the area in Jalalabad, near the Pakistan border, provincial intelligence chief Sardar Shah told The Associated Press. It was the biggest outpouring of anti-American sentiment since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
Mobs also attacked the Pakistani consulate along with the offices of two U.N. agencies and a Swedish relief organization. No foreigners were reported hurt and witnesses said police and government troops had restored order by early afternoon.
“There is a lot of damage to the city, they have burned a lot of things,” Shah said. “These are the enemies of peace and stability in Afghanistan who don’t want people to be able to get on with their lives in peace.”
U.S. spokeswoman Lt. Cindy Moore said American forces in the area were ordered back to their camps, but she had no information on whether any of them were caught up in the unrest.
Four people were killed and 71 injured, including seven police officers, according to the Interior Ministry. It didn’t give more details.
An Associated Press Television News cameraman said the crowds grew larger and wilder after the firing and the streets were deserted of traffic. Mobs pelted a government office and the local television station with rocks and tore down posters of President Hamid Karzai.
Demonstrations began Tuesday, when protesters burned an effigy of President Bush over a report in Newsweek magazine that interrogators at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, placed Qurans on toilets to rattle suspects, and in at least one case “flushed a holy book down the toilet.”
At the Pentagon, spokesman Bryan Whitman said Wednesday that the allegation will be investigated.
“This is a serious allegation and it’s gong to be looked into,” Whitman said. “We have a great consideration with respect to the detainees we’re holding and their religious practices.”
U.S. Charge d’Affaires Richard Christenson said the embassy was “deeply concerned” at the violence and said “disrespect toward the holy book of any religion is unacceptable.”
The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, one of the largest aid organizations in the country, said staff at its Jalalabad office took refuge on the roof Wednesday as a mob stole, smashed or burned their equipment and torched two of their cars.
Murat Khan, Pakistan’s deputy counselor, said the consulate building as well as his boss’ residence were in flames.
People broke into two U.N. compounds and burned two cars, a U.N. spokeswoman said.
Deputy provincial health chief Mohammed Ayub Shinwari said at least two protesters were shot to death and another 45 were being treated at Jalalabad hospital, three with serious injuries. Another 12 injured were being treated at a university clinic.
Most of the injured were students, he said, adding that many of the injured also suffered gunshot wounds.
University and high school students held similar but peaceful protests in cities in neighboring Laghman province and Khost, further to the south.
Witnesses said students also demanded the release of all prisoners from Guantanamo, and that “American troops don’t stay in Afghanistan forever” — tricky issues likely to be discussed when Karzai meets Bush in Washington later this month.
The government of neighboring Pakistan — like Afghanistan, a conservative Muslim nation and close ally in Washington’s war on terrorism — said Saturday it was “deeply dismayed” over the magazine report and called for an inquiry.
A coalition of hard-line Islamic parties in Pakistan said it will hold nationwide protests on Friday, the traditional day of prayer for Muslims.
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