KABUL — Nine people were killed in a suicide strike aimed at a NATO base in Afghanistan on Monday, an attack the Taliban said was the latest attempt to avenge last week’s accidental burning of copies of the Koran by U.S. military personnel.
A spokesman for the NATO-led coalition forces said no coalition service members were killed in the attack, in which the bomber detonated a car laden with explosives at the main entrance of the Jalalabad air base.
Instead, nine Afghans were fatally wounded, including six civilians who were passing outside the base at the time of the attack, a provincial spokesman said. The spokesman, Abdul Rahim Rahimzai, said the dead included one Afghan soldier and two Afghan security guards. Twelve people were injured. It could not immediately be learned how many of the injured, if any, were NATO personnel.
“This was carried out by one of our mujaheddin, Mawlavi Ahmadullah, who volunteered to do it in order to avenge the desecration of the Koran by the U.S. military,” Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said by phone from an undisclosed location.
Since U.S. troops mistakenly placed Korans with other material destined for the incinerator at Bagram air base last Monday, Afghans and some Muslims in other countries have staged multiple protests and several deadly attacks. Thirty people, including four U.S. troops, have been killed, and scores wounded.
The U.S. troops were killed in two separate attacks. A man in an Afghan army uniform fatally shot two soldiers at a joint base near Jalalabad on Thursday, and two military advisers at the Afghan Interior Ministry were shot dead inside the ministry compound on Saturday.
In response, NATO has withdrawn its personnel from Afghan government ministries, and several European countries are pulling out their civilian advisers from other institutions.
Mujahid said he didn’t know how the Koran burning and its aftermath would impact nascent meetings involving Taliban officials and U.S. officials over forging a peaceful settlement to the decade-long U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.
President Obama has apologized for the burnings. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has joined many Afghans in demanding punishment for those who burned the books, but he also has urged people to refrain from violence. The cycles of clashes and attempts at vengeance might complicate U.S. and NATO efforts to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan by 2014 and transfer security responsibilities to the Afghans.
Washington’s top diplomat in Afghanistan said the United States should resist the urge to pull troops out ahead of schedule. “Tensions are running very high here. I think we need to let things calm down, return to a more normal atmosphere, and then get on with business,” Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker told CNN in an interview from Kabul.
“This is not the time to decide that we are done here,” Crocker said. “We have got to redouble our efforts. We have got to create a situation that al-Qaeda is not coming back.”