Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for calm yesterday after days of violent anti-US protests, as police hunted an intelligence official suspected of killing two US officers at the Afghan Ministry of the Interior.
The president made the appeal in a televised news conference after at least 29 people died in five days of demonstrations over the burning of Korans at a US military base.
Seven US troops were wounded yesterday when demonstrators threw a grenade into their base in Kunduz Province, police said.
“The demonstrators hurled a hand grenade at US special forces base in Imam Sahib City of Kunduz Province — as a result seven US special forces were wounded,” Kunduz police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Hussaini said.
Karzai “condemned with the strongest words” the treatment of Islam’s holy book and said the perpetrators should be punished, but told his countrymen: “Now that we have shown our feelings it is time to be calm and peaceful.”
He said he respected the emotions of Afghans upset by the Koran burning, but urged them not to let “the enemies of Afghanistan misuse their feelings.”
US-led NATO forces on Saturday pulled all their staff out of Afghan government ministries after the shooting, with the Pentagon condemning it as “unacceptable” and calling on Afghan authorities to curtail raging violence.
Karzai told the news conference in response to a question that “we feel sorry for what happened,” but added that it was not yet known whether the shooter was an Afghan or a foreigner.
However, government sources said police were hunting for an Afghan intelligence official suspected of the shooting.
“A police officer who worked for the intelligence department of the Ministry of Interior has disappeared — officials believe he is the suspect and they are looking for him,” an official in the ministry said.
Local television quoted a source as naming the suspect as 25-year-old Abdul Saboor, who had studied in Pakistan and joined the ministry as a driver in 2007 before being promoted.
He had signed into the ministry on Saturday before disappearing. The two US officers were found dead in their office with gunshot wounds.
NATO, which has a 130,000-strong US-led military force fighting the Taliban insurgency, has advisers throughout the Afghan government, but commanding officer General John Allen ordered them all withdrawn.
“Despite being pulled from the ministries, the military advisers remained in contact with ministry personnel,” a spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Cummings, said yesterday.
“We will not let this incident divide the coalition,” he said on ISAF’s Twitter feed.
Analysts say it has plunged relations between Afghans and their Western allies to an all time low.
“It has never been as bad as this and it could be a turning point” in the West’s 10-year mission in the war-torn country, said Martine van Bijlert of the Afghanistan Analysts’ Network.