KABUL (Reuters) – Two American officers were shot dead inside Afghanistan’s interior ministry on Saturday while rage gripped the country for a fifth day over the burning of the Muslim holy book at a NATO base.
NATO recalled all staff working at ministries in the Afghan capital Kabul following the attack, with its top commander in Afghanistan calling the killer a “coward”.
“For obvious force protection reasons, I have also taken immediate measures to recall all other ISAF personnel working in ministries in and around Kabul,” said General John Allen, adding that the attacker’s actions “will not go unanswered”.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the shootings, which it said were in retaliation for the desecration of the Korans at Bagram airfield. Afghan security sources said the two were a U.S. colonel and major with NATO forces.
The Koran burnings have ignited anti-Western feelings in Afghanistan despite an apology from U.S. President Barack Obama and a call for restraint from Afghan leader Hamid Karzai.
Thousands have taken to the streets in protest. Twelve people were killed and dozens wounded on Friday, the bloodiest day yet in demonstrations.
An Afghan security source said the American officers were found dead with gunshot wounds deep inside the heavily fortified interior ministry.
“There is CCTV there and special locks. The killer would have had to have the highest security (clearance) to get to the room where they were killed,” the source told Reuters.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) confirmed two of its servicemen had been killed in Kabul but declined to say if the shooter was a member of the Afghan security forces.
The Koran burnings have underscored the deep cultural divide that still exists in Afghanistan more than 10 years after U.S. troops invaded to oust the Taliban and has deepened public mistrust of Western troops struggling to stabilize the country.