US Officers Among Dozens Killed Over Quran Burning in Afghanistan

Two American officers were shot dead inside Afghanistan's heavily guarded interior ministry Saturday, the fifth day of violent protests over the accidental burning of Qurans at a NATO base that have resulted in dozens of demonstrators killed.

A member of the Afghan security forces Saturday fired on the two U.S. officers at close range inside a protected command center at the Interior Ministry in Kabul, Reuters reported.

The victims were advisers to the ministry and among several officers who are in Afghanistan to train and equip that country's security forces ahead of the expected withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014. Their names had not been released until Saturday.

"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," a source was quoted as saying. The Taliban claimed its people were behind the shooting aimed at avenging the burning of Qurans allegedly by NATO personnel Monday.

"For obvious force protection reasons, I have also taken immediate measures to recall all other ISAF [NATO's International Security Assistance Force] personnel working in ministries in and around Kabul," NATO's General John Allen was quoted as saying. Allen also warned that the attacker's actions "will not go unanswered."

The recalling of staff from ministries points to a continued threat of attacks from Afghan security personnel. Germany also recalled 50 of its troops from an outpost in northern Afghanistan after an attack. The Pentagon called the Saturday's killing "unacceptable."

Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak reportedly apologized to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for the incident. President Barack Obama, who had apologized Thursday for the unintentional burning of Qurans, welcomed Afghan President Hamid Karzai's statement that calls for peaceful resolution of the issue.

Demonstrations against Western forces began Tuesday, a day after Afghan laborers found charred copies of the Quran while collecting rubbish at Bagram Air Base near Kabul.

Police Saturday prevented hundreds of protesters from overrunning a compound in the northern Kunduz province that houses staff from the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. The death toll from the violence surrounding the protests reached 27, which includes two other NATO service members who were killed by a man in an Afghan Army uniform Thursday.

On Friday, thousands were in the streets in various parts of Afghanistan, including Kabul, after midday prayers calling for action against those who burned the Quran. Seven people were killed in the western Herat province, two in Khost province bordering Pakistan, and another person in the northern Baghlan province as police sought to quell demonstrations.

In one of the protests, armed demonstrators burned down a police vehicle as they walked towards the U.S. consulate in Kabul. The vehicle, which was apparently carrying arms, exploded, killing and injuring police officers and civilians.

President Karzai has said American soldiers mistakenly insulted the Koran and that their apology should be accepted. He also called for punishment of those responsible for it.

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