US burning of Koran was intentional, Afghan investigator says

Supporters of Pakistan Islamic party Islami Jamiat-e-Tulba burn a mock of US flag as they shout slogans during a protest against the alleged ‘Koran burning’ by the US troops, in Multan, Pakistan, 02 March 2012. . EPA/MK CHAUDHARY | Mar 5, 2012

Kabul – The burning of the Koran at a US military base in Afghanistan was intentional, a member of the Afghan investigating team told dpa Monday.

‘We believe it is intentional,’ said Maulavi Khaliqdad, a member of the panel established by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

‘If they burnt one or two copies, then we could have said it could have been a mistake. But they took hundreds of such books to burn. Everyone knew those were religious books.’

News that US soldiers in Bagram airbase north of Kabul had burnt copies of religious books including the Muslim scriptures, the Koran, last month caused violent protests nationwide.

International military officials apologized and said it was ‘unintentional.’ US President Barack Obama also sent a written apology to Karzai.

But despite apologies and calls for calm by Karzai, more than 30 protesters were killed in the ensuing violence.

Six US soldiers were also killed in apparent revenge attacks by their Afghan allies, including two US military advisers who were murdered inside the fortified Interior Ministry building.

Khaliqdad said the team’s finding that the burning was intentional has been presented to Karzai and parliament.

‘It is impossible if you collect that many books from a library … Someone is responsible for this,’ he said. ‘We cannot accept that they say it was a mistake.’

‘A mistake is when someone does something without any knowledge or when someone is unaware,’ said Khaliqdad, who is also a member of religious Ulema Council of Islamic scholars and mullahs.

Khaliqdad said a senior Afghan army officer had asked the US military staff where the books were being taken before they were burnt.

‘And they told him that the books were being taken to storage,’ he said. ‘But instead they were burnt.’

It is not exactly known if any or how many books were burnt but the construction workers rescued 216 copies of religious books, of which 48 were Korans, his investigation team found.

After the labourers objected, the US soldiers returned with the rest of books without throwing them in the fire, according to the investigation.

Khaliqdad said the team looked at the books in the storage that were set aside for burning and found nothing with extremist messages written on them, as suggested by some NATO officials.

‘We saw different types of religious books including the Koran. Many were new and did not have anything written in them. We saw some where the prisoners had written the dates they were arrested on and the topic of holy passage from the Koran and the page number,’ he said.

‘There were no secret messages, no political messages … There were no books related to the Taliban or al Qaeda. These were books that are taught by the Ulema everywhere,’ Khaliqdad said.

Khaliqdad also said similar books that were set aside for burning were found in the prison library.

‘The Afghan national army has a religious department there. The US military did not discuss this with anyone (before burning them),’ Khaliqdad said.

He said the team had recommended punishment for those who were involved in the Koran burning.

‘This is a crime and you can not convince people with an apology when a crime is done,’ he said.

‘We want the punishment for those who were involved in this. They should be punished according to law.’

The head of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan last week also asked that the United States should take disciplinary action against the perpetrators.

Earlier, Karzai had also called on the US to put the perpetrators on trial and punish them.

Separate investigations on the Koran burning incident are ongoing, led by NATO and Afghan authorities. Many officials fear a new round of violent protests could erupt following the findings of the investigation teams.

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