Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) — Twelve people were killed Friday in an attack on a U.N. compound in northern Afghanistan that followed a demonstration against the reported burning last month of a Quran in Florida, authorities said.
The fatalities comprised seven U.N. workers and five demonstrators, officials said.
Another 24 people were wounded, said Abdul Rauof Taj, security director of Balkh province.
Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai, a spokesman for the police in Mazar-e-Sharif, told reporters that a number of suspects “who might be the main organizers” had been arrested.
U.N. Peacekeeping Director Alain Le Roy said the seven U.N. fatalities were international staffers — three civilians and four international security guards. No Afghan U.N. staff members were among the dead, he said.
“I understand there were hundreds, if not thousands, of demonstrators. Some of them were clearly armed and they stormed into the building.”
He said the security guards tried their best to halt the demonstrators’ advance, but were overwhelmed.
Le Roy said it was not clear that the United Nations was the target. “It happened to be the U.N. because the U.N. is on the ground.”
Five demonstrators were killed in the violence; one person’s throat was cut, he said.
A U.N .source said the dead included four Nepalese security guards as well as U.N. workers from Norway, Sweden and Romania.
The U.N. Security Council met Friday and issued a statement condemning the attack, which occurred at the operations center of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), and calling on the Afghan government to investigate.
Haji Sakhi Mohammad, a businessman in Mazar-e-Sharif, said that the incident began after Friday prayers, when many people joined a protest against the burning of the Quran. People calling “Death to America” marched to the U.N. compound and broke in, he said. At that, gunfire broke out and “I saw protesters shot to death.”
A student in Mazar-e-Sharif said he and his friends joined the protesters, who numbered in the hundreds. “When we reached the UNAMA office, we came under gunfire by Afghan security guards. Protesters became angry and stormed the building.”
The student said some of the protesters found several loaded AK-47s and used them to kill security guards and other people inside the building.
The attack followed a demonstration against the reported burning of a Quran by Florida pastor Terry Jones, who gained international attention last year when he announced that he was planning to burn a Quran, the U.N. source with knowledge of events said.
Jones is the pastor of the 60-member Dove World Outreach Center church near Gainesville. Last year, after an outcry followed his announcement of plans to burn a Quran on the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he canceled them. Last month, however, he reportedly did burn Islam’s holy book.
The church says on its website that it planned to put the Quran on trial on March 20, and, “if found guilty of causing murder, rape and terrorism, it will be executed!” Another post on the website, which uses an alternative spelling for the book, says “the Koran was found guilty” during the mock trial and “a copy was burned inside the building.”
On Friday, Jones said in an e-mailed statement that the attack in Afghanistan shows that “the time has come to hold Islam accountable.”
“We must hold these countries and people accountable for what they have done as well as for any excuses they may use to promote their terrorist activities,” he said.
Atta Mohammad Noor, the governor of Balkh province, said the attackers had used the protests against the burning “as a cover for this violence.”
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai called the attacks “an act against Islam and Afghan values.”
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the victims were only trying to help the Afghan people.
“In targeting them, the attackers have demonstrated an appalling disregard for what the U.N. and the entire international community are trying to do for the benefit of all Afghans,” he said.
U.S. President Barack Obama also condemned the attack. “We stress the importance of calm and urge all parties to reject violence and resolve differences through dialogue,” he said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said he would not speculate on the motivation behind the attack, but added that it was “in no way justified, regardless of what the motivation was.”
The Council on American Islamic Relations also released a statement condemning the attack. “Nothing can justify or excuse this attack,” said the group, which describes itself as America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization.
GOJRA, Pakistan, Aug. 2 — They do not want to bury the Christians. They want the nation to see them.
By nightfall Sunday, hundreds of residents of the Christian enclave here stood in defiant vigil around seven particleboard coffins neatly aligned on the train tracks that run through town. They had demands: Until the government investigates the killings and finds those responsible, they will not remove the bodies.
Police waited warily in the street. A man on a loudspeaker bellowed the villagers’ sentiments, which included anger at provincial authorities for not stopping the killings.
“Death to the Punjab government!”
A spasm of religious violence came to this rural town in the shape of an angry Muslim mob Saturday morning. The Muslims marched to avenge what they believed was the desecration of a Koran one week earlier. When it was over, dozens of houses were torched and Faith Bible Pentecostal Church lay in ruins. Two villagers were shot dead, residents said. Five others, including two children, burned alive.
Killing has become commonplace in Pakistan. But this attack startled the country both for its ferocity and for its stark message to religious minorities. Many saw the violence as further evidence of the growing power of the Taliban and allied Islamist militant groups in Punjab province, home to about half of Pakistan’s population.
“They have made up their minds to crush Christianity. They always call us dogs of America, agents of America,” said Romar Sardar, an English teacher from the area. “There has been no protection by the police. Nothing.”
The conflict apparently began with a wedding. On the evening of July 25, a wedding procession for a Christian couple passed through the nearby village of Korian, according to a police report. Revelers danced and threw money in the air, as is local custom. In the morning, a resident told police he had picked up scraps of paper on the ground and found Arabic writing. “We examined them, and it was the pages from the holy Koran,” the man said in the report.
Four days later, the accused, a member of the wedding party named Talib Masih, faced a meeting of local elders, who demanded that he be punished. Instead of repenting, the report said, he denied the desecration, and as a result, “the whole Muslim population was enraged.” The house burning began that night and then quieted down until Saturday morning.
That day, Riaz Masih, 68, a retired teacher, grew increasingly worried as a crowd gathered, chanting anti-Christian slogans and cursing Americans. He locked his house and rushed with his wife and children to the home of a Muslim friend nearby. The crowd, some wearing black veils and carrying guns, turned down Masih’s narrow brick alley near the train tracks and into the Christian Colony, according to several witnesses. Residents and marchers threw rocks at each other, and gunfire broke out. Using what residents described as gasoline and other flammable chemicals, the mob torched Masih’s house.
“We have nothing left,” he said, standing in the charred remains of his living room, his daughter’s empty jewelry box at his feet. “We are trying to face this in the name of Jesus Christ. The Bible says you cannot take revenge.”
On Sunday, the scenes of wreckage and dismay played out in house after house. Residents tossed burned blankets and clothing, broken televisions, and charred beds into heaps on the street. Fruit seller Iqbal Masih, 49, stepped over his mangled carts on his patio and tried to assess what was left of his daughter’s dowry. The armoire, a refrigerator, the bedding were burned; the $675 for furniture had disappeared.
“I am out of my mind. I can’t look,” he said. “They have subjected us to severe cruelties. May God show them the right path.”
At least four of the dead came from a single house. As the mob approached, a bullet struck Hamid Masih, a builder, in the head as he stood in his doorway, said his son, Min Has. Has heaved his father onto a motorcycle and drove him to a hospital, while the rest of the family members crowded in a back bedroom. The house began burning, and smoked billowed into the rooms. At least three other relatives, including 5- and 8-year-old siblings, died in the flames, according to residents. “There was fire everywhere, and it was impossible for them to get out,” Has said.
“I know one thing. They want to destroy Christians,” said Atiq Masih, 22, a janitor who was shot in the right knee. “They were attacking everything.”
Christians, who make up about 2 percent of the Punjab population, have been targeted in other recent cases. In June, a mob attacked Christian homes in the Kasur district of Punjab for allegedly dishonoring the prophet Mohammed. In Pakistan, which has strict laws against blasphemy, people can be imprisoned for life or put to death for insulting Islam.
Residents in Gojra said that this was the first incident of its kind in the town and that Christians and Muslims have long lived alongside one another without serious problems. They blamed Muslim clerics for inciting anger over the Koran incident in mosque sermons and accused the Taliban and the militant group Sipah-e-Sahaba of involvement in the attack.
“The provincial government is not accepting that a large part of Punjab is suffering from religious intolerance due to the Taliban and religious outfits,” said Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, which issues an annual report on religious minorities in Pakistan. “They have been very negligent. This conflict was brewing for three days, and they were not receptive. They were not taking it seriously.”
Pakistan’s president and prime minister have called for investigations into the violence. By Sunday, police and paramilitary troops had taken up positions in the town. Provincial authorities said they have already made arrests and registered cases against 800 people. Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti denied that any Koran had been desecrated.
Police in Gojra said the violence Saturday was beyond their control.
“It happened all of a sudden. The police that were here were too few in number to stop it,” said policeman Kashif Sadiq. “It’s not fair to assume they let this happen intentionally.”