Prague, 15 May 2005 (RFE/RL) - Some 300 Afghan Muslim clerics issued a joint statement today demanding Washington hand over the military interrogators alleged to have desecrated the Koran at Guantanamo Bay.
The clerics, meeting in Faizabad, the capital of the northeastern province of Badakhshan, said that if the interrogators were not handed over in three days to an Islamic country for justice, they would call for a jihad (holy struggle) against the United States.
The statement is the latest sign that tensions continue to run high in Afghanistan over the alleged desecration. At least 10 people have been killed in anti-American protests over the past week that turned into violent clashes with police.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said yesterday in Kabul that anti-U.S. forces were inciting the violence.
"The enemies of Afghanistan are still active," Karzai said. "The enemies of our country are behind this violence. They do not want Afghanistan to have a strategic relationship with the international community."
He also said the protesters were against Afghanistan's partnership with "especially the United States" and "against the peace process" in Afghanistan in general.
Karzai, who is a close U.S. ally, also promised to press for justice if the alleged desecrations are proven to have taken place.
"The investigation is going on about the Koran desecration, whether it has happened or not," Karzai said. "If proven that this happened, then we will strongly ask the American government to put on trial and punish whoever is the culprit."
He also said that some U.S. military actions in Afghanistan have created resentments among ordinary Afghans that could be contributing to the tensions.
In a possible reference to some past U.S. raids on suspected militant targets that have taken civilian lives, Karzai said there had been mistakes by U.S. forces.
He also said his government would soon ask U.S. forces to hand over to Kabul all Afghan prisoners now held by U.S. forces in the country.
The United States leads an international force in Afghanistan of more than 18,000 soldiers, mostly American. The solders are tasked with fighting Taliban insurgents and hunting for Al-Qaeda leaders including Osama bin Laden.
Reports of the alleged desecrations of the Koran first appeared in the U.S. magazine "Newsweek" on 9 May. The magazine said interrogators at Guantanamo Bay placed Korans on toilets to intimidate and fluster suspects and in one case "flushed a holy book down the toilet."
The report has upset Muslims worldwide and prompted anti-U.S. protests in several countries. But fatal violence has only occurred in Afghanistan.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on 12 May that the desecration reports are being investigated and that the United States respects all world religions.See also:
Authorities On Alert After Days Of Violent Protests
What Is Fueling The Anti-U.S. Demonstrations?
Afghan Protests Turn Violent