Afghan soldier wounds foreign contractors; mob tries to storm U.S. base in Kabul

September 17, 2012

An Afghan soldier opened fire on six Lebanese civilian contractors working for U.S.-led NATO forces in southern Afghanistan on Sunday night, causing minor injuries, coalition officials said Monday. The attack was the third by rogue Afghan security personnel over the weekend, when six foreign troops were killed.

The member of the Afghan National Army fired shots at six contractors riding in a vehicle near Camp Garmsir, a shared base in southern Helmand province, said Lt. Col. Hagen Messer, a coalition spokesman. Some of them were wounded, but Messer said he could not provide a specific number.

Another Afghan soldier disarmed the attacker and took him into custody, Messer said, adding that the assailant thought he was targeting foreign troops.

Over the weekend, six international troops — four Americans and two Britons — died after Afghan forces opened fire on them, the latest deaths in a spate of “insider attacks” that have killed 51 NATO troops this year.

Early Tuesday, a suicide bomber driving a small sedan crashed into a minibus believed to be carrying foreign aviation workers near the Kabul airport, killing at least nine people, including the Afghan driver, the Associated Press reported. Kabul’s police chief, Gen. Mohammad Ayub Salangi, said the explosion occurred on a large avenue northwest of the city center near the airport.

On Monday, about 500 Afghan demonstrators attacked police with stones and sticks while trying to storm a U.S. military base in Kabul, authorities said. It was the first violent anti-American protest in Afghanistan over a video that Muslims worldwide have condemned as blasphemous.

Fifteen police officers were wounded, none seriously, Interior Ministry spokesman Mohammad Najib said. The protesters also destroyed a police vehicle and torched a police post, he said.

Some demonstrators said they turned against the police after being prevented from breaching the main gate and walls surrounding Camp Phoenix, a U.S. Army base in the eastern part of the capital.

“We wanted to attack Camp Phoenix to kill the Americans but were stopped by the Afghan police, and we had to attack the police,” said protester Ajmal Hotak, a 26-year-old shopkeeper.

Chanting “Death to all infidel countries,” the demonstrators demanded punishment for those who made the anti-Muslim video. They also called for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

North of the city, hundreds of other protesters gathered outside Bagram Airfield, the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan, and staged a peaceful demonstration, officials said.

Monday’s demonstration in Kabul came after clerics in mosques near Camp Phoenix urged residents after early-morning prayers to take to the streets and close the base, Hotak said.

By contrast, last week clerics across Afghanistan, at the behest of the government, exhorted people during Friday prayers to refrain from violence.

The violence at the early-morning march was minimal compared with past anti-Western demonstrations, which have killed foreigners, including aid workers, and led to the deaths of dozens of protesters. In February, after U.S. soldiers at the Bagram base disposed of copies of the Koran by burning them, at least 20 demonstrators died over several days of protest.

In a statement issued later Monday, Gen. John R. Allen, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, made a point of praising Kabul’s police chief for “maintaining control” of the demonstration.

In neighboring Pakistan, authorities blocked YouTube access Monday, applying broad censorship powers in hopes of heading off further unrest caused by what they called the “blasphemous” video clips available on the Internet.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry ordered the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to ensure that Pakistanis could not access “all anti-Islamic blasphemous videos on YouTube,” the agency said. At the same time, Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf directed the Ministry of Information Technology also to shut down the service.

Ashraf’s office said it took action because YouTube refused to heed Pakistan’s request to pull the video.

Efforts by Afghanistan to purge the video from the Internet or block its viewing in recent days have been less successful. The “Innocence of Muslims” clips are still accessible there on YouTube.

Richard Leiby is a senior writer in Post’s Style section. His previous assignments have included Pakistan Bureau Chief, and reporter, columnist and editor in Washington. He joined The Post in 1991.
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