Cartoon Protests Stoke Anti-American Mood

Afghans protesting the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad shout slogans as police officers stop them outside the Danish Embassy in Kabul.
Afghans protesting the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad shout slogans as police officers stop them outside the Danish Embassy in Kabul. (By Rafiq Maqbool -- Associated Press)
By Griff Witte and Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 7, 2006

KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb. 6 -- Afghan police shot dead three people who stormed the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan Monday to protest caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, as continuing demonstrations in Muslim countries grew more deadly and in places took on a new anti-American tone.

In Indonesia, a crowd attempted to force its way into a U.S. consulate. In Iran, police used tear gas to push back firebomb-throwing demonstrators outside the Danish Embassy, while in Somalia a protester was killed when shots fired into the air set off a stampede.

Until Monday, Afghanistan had remained largely quiet as other parts of the Muslim world erupted in anger, generally directed toward European countries where newspapers had published the cartoons of Muhammad.

Afghan officials suggested that the violence outside Bagram air base indicated that insurgents were trying to capitalize on religious indignation.

"The protests started out about the cartoons," said Kabir Ahmed, the Bagram police chief. "But there is the possibility that al Qaeda is motivating these people to use violence against the Americans." Afghanistan's population has generally been supportive of the presence of the 19,000 U.S. troops here.

Ahmed said that the protesters outside the base chanted, "Down with U.S. forces! Down with the Afghan government!" and pelted U.S. military vehicles with stones, attacked a guard post manned by Afghan security forces outside the air base and ransacked local shops. "They wanted to enter the base and attack the U.S. forces," Ahmed said.

He said that some of them were armed and that Afghan police opened fire when they came under attack with rocks. In addition to the three protesters killed, five were wounded. Eight Afghan police officers were injured, Ahmed said.

U.S. soldiers were not involved in the confrontation, a U.S. military spokesman told the Associated Press.

In a separate incident in eastern Afghanistan's Laghman province, one protester was killed and four were injured as a crowd of 1,000 people attempted to storm a police headquarters, according to Mohammed Hamraz Nangarhari, the governor's spokesman.

Nangarhari said the protesters were injured by gunfire from within the crowd. But demonstrators told a different story. "The people started throwing stones, and after that the police fired on us directly," said Ezat, a shopkeeper who joined the protest.

An American soldier was killed Monday in Laghman, but U.S. military spokesman Lt. Mike Cody said there did not appear to be a connection between that incident and the protests.

In Kabul, hundreds of demonstrators rallied outside the Danish Embassy, then began throwing rocks as they marched through the streets. Rocks were directed at a U.S. base, but no serious damage was reported.

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