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Nato probes 'disposal' of Korans

The US commander of international troops in Afghanistan has ordered an investigation into the improper disposal of a large number of Islamic religious materials, including Korans, at an American air base north of Kabul.

The military official said it appeared that the Korans and other Islamic readings were being used to fuel extremism, and that detainees at Parwan Detention Facility were writing on the documents to exchange extremist messages.

Parwan Detention Facility adjoins Bagram Air Field, a US base north of Kabul, where more than 2,000 angry Afghans demonstrated against the incident.

The burning stoked anti-foreign sentiment that already is on the rise after a decade of war in Afghanistan. It also fuelled the arguments of Afghans who claim foreign troops are not respectful of their culture or Islamic religion. "Die, die, foreigners!" the demonstrators shouted. Some fired rifles into the air. Others threw rocks at the gate of the base and set tires ablaze.

US Gen John Allen, the top commander of American and Nato forces in Afghanistan, apologised to the Afghan people and said the books were inadvertently given to troops for burning.

"It was not a decision that was made because they were religious materials," Gen Allen told Nato TV. "It was not a decision that was made with respect to the faith of Islam. It was a mistake. It was an error. The moment we found out about it we immediately stopped and we intervened."

The military official said that several hundred Islamic publications, including Korans, were removed from the library. Some of the publications had extremist content; others had extremist messages on their pages, the official said. The official said the documents were charred and burnt, but that none of them were completely destroyed.

"We will look into the reason those materials were gathered," Gen Allen said. "We will look into the manner in which the decision was made to dispose of them in this manner."

Gen Allen said he would issue an order spelling out how Islamic religious materials should be handled by the coalition.

In a statement, Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the incident and appointed a delegation to investigate. He said initial reports were that four Korans were burned.

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