Afghan Outrage Grows Violent Over U.S. Quran Burnings

At least 25 people have died in riots this week across Afghanistan ever since U.S. officials revealed that American soldiers had burned copies of the Muslim holy book. On Saturday, more than 1,000 demonstrators clashed with police outside a United Nations compound in the north of the country. Host Scott Simon gets the latest on the unrest from NPR's Quil Lawrence.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Gunfire broke out today inside the Interior Ministry in Kabul, Afghanistan. Two high-ranking U.S. military officers have been killed. The incident came on the fifth day of protests across the nation, sparked by the burning of Qurans at a U.S. base. NPR's Quil Lawrence joins us from Kabul. Quil, thanks for being with us.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: My pleasure.

SIMON: What do we know now about the shooting?

LAWRENCE: Details are still coming in. We know that in the afternoon there were reports that gunfire was heard inside the Interior Ministry, inside a high-security area within the ministry. And we have been able to confirm that two, as you said, U.S. military officers - advisors to the Interior Ministry, a colonel and a major - have been killed. But after that, the details get very sketchy. ISAF, that's the NATO mission here, led by General John Allen, a U.S. Army general, have been very vague in their language. They said that the perpetrator was a coward who will be brought to justice. But they haven't said anything about nationality or any other details.

SIMON: Is there any reason to think we're not to think that this is related to the burnings of the Quran for which the United States has apologized?

LAWRENCE: Now, there has been an uptick in incidents like this, where Afghan soldiers have turned their weapons on the American and other NATO trainers and advisors; soldiers here on the ground. That's been on the rise. But this week, there was an incident like that, that seems directly linked to the Quran burning. And at the moment, I think everyone is assuming that this was linked to the incident up at Bagram Airfield, which has yet be explained, how this came to happen, that they were incinerating Qurans.

SIMON: Reaction from the Afghan government?

LAWRENCE: What we're hearing so far is quite contradictory. No one's confirming, but American officials are saying that they are pretty sure that the perpetrator of this act was not a Westerner, whereas some Afghan sources are saying, no, they don't think it was an Afghan. They think that it had to have been a Western advisor to have reached inside this part of the Interior Ministry. So it's very confusing at this point.

Of course, reaction to the Quran burnings is still really just anger, universal anger across the country, and we've seen riots with dozens now dead since Monday in provinces across the country.

SIMON: NPR's Quil Lawrence in Kabul. Thanks so much.

LAWRENCE: I thank you.

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