Afghans protest Fla. church's plan to burn Korans

By David Nakamura and Masood Azraq
Thursday, September 9, 2010; 9:32 AM

KABUL - Demonstrations erupted here Thursday as hundreds of enraged youths burned effigies, threw rocks and chanted, "Death to America," to protest plans by a Florida church to burn copies of the Koran this weekend.

At a protest in the Tara Khail neighborhood of eastern Kabul, young Afghans carried signs reading "Koran is our law" and "Muhammad is our leader." They threw rocks at a poster urging people to vote in upcoming parliamentary elections and waved Afghan and Palestinian flags.

Afghan police armed with rifles attempted to corral the demonstrators, but at one point the protesters overran a police barricade and sprinted down the street, then set an effigy on fire.

Another protest was reported by Islamic clerics in Kapisa province, north of Kabul near Bagram Air Base.

Terry Jones, head of the Dove World Outreach Center, a tiny evangelical Christian church in Gainesville, Fla., has announced plans to burn copies of the Koran on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

Azizullah Musleh, a cleric at the Shershah mosque in Kabul, called the plans "a very egregious act."

"It's an insult to the whole Muslim world. It's sending a very distracting message to the U.S. and all Muslims," Musleh said. He added that at his mosque this week, he hosted a gathering of emotional young people who chanted, "Death to the U.S., death to the churches."

"They consider it an insult to Islam," he said. "And they are condemning this barbaric act of the priest in the small church in Florida. The reaction of the youth is very explosive. . . . If the church is doing this action, there is going to be no place for the Americans in the Muslim world. Every American is going to be in danger."

Another cleric, Abdul Hadi Rostaqi of Balkh province, told the Associated Press that a large anti-American protest is scheduled for Monday in Mazar-e Sharif if the church goes through with the burning.

Americans from across the political spectrum - including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Gen. David H. Petraeus, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, conservative commentator Glenn Beck and actress Angelina Jolie - have denounced Jones. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also called on the church to scrap its plans.

Some clerics in Kabul said they appreciate the support from American leaders and have urged their followers to refrain from violence.

"The reaction is not going to be as big, now that the issue has been proved that it's not the U.S. government behind this action," said Habibullah Hassam, a Kabul cleric who organized a protest Monday that drew 500 people. "It's just a bunch of stupid, illiterate people."

That said, some clerics said they could not predict what young Afghans would do Saturday night if images are broadcast of the Koran being burned. Enayatullah Balegh, a Muslim cleric who teaches Islamic law at Kabul University, said he talked to his followers Wednesday night about the church's planned Koran burning.

"People expressed their anger, their frustrations, and they said they're going to be defending the holy Koran," he said. "And they promised to take action."

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