KABUL, Afghanistan — Anger over the burning of the Muslim holy book at a Florida church fueled a second day of deadly violence half a world away in Afghanistan, where demonstrators set cars and shops ablaze Saturday in a riot that killed nine protesters, officials said.
The church’s desecration of the Quran nearly two weeks ago has outraged millions of Muslims and others worldwide, fueling anti-American sentiment that is further straining ties between the Afghan government and the West.
The Quran was burned March 20, but many Afghans only found out about it when Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the desecration four days later. The burning took place at the Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, the same church where the Rev. Terry Jones had threatened to destroy a copy of the holy book last year but initially backed down.
The uproar on Friday even brought violence to the normally peaceful northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, when a crowd of protesters — apparently infiltrated by insurgents — stormed a U.N. compound in an outpouring that left four Afghan protesters and seven foreign U.N. employees dead.
The top U.N. envoy in Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, said the organization had no plans to evacuate. It would, however, temporarily redeploy 11 staff members from Maraz-i-Sharif to Kabul
“This is not an evacuation, it is a temporary redeployment because the office is not functioning. We will be ready to go back as soon as we can establish an office that is secure enough,” he told reporters.
On Saturday, thousands of Afghans carrying long sticks and holding copies of the Quran over their heads marched through Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan and the cradle of the insurgency. The crackle of gunfire could be heard throughout the city, which was blanketed by thick black smoke.
Security forces shot in the air to disperse the crowd, said Zalmai Ayubi, a spokesman for the provincial governor. It’s unclear how the protesters were slain, he said.
The governor’s office in Kandahar province issued a statement saying that nine protesters were killed and 81 others were injured in the demonstration that turned into a riot. Seventeen people, including seven armed men, had been arrested, the statement said.
In an unrelated attack that nonetheless demonstrated the kind of violence plaguing Afghanistan nearly a decade after the U.S. invaded to oust the Taliban and hunt al-Qaida, two suicide attackers disguised as women in blue burqas blew themselves up and a third was gunned down at a NATO base on the outskirts of Kabul, police said.