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Probe of Afghan Quran burning nearing completion

By Patrick Quinn
Associated Press / February 29, 2012
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KABUL, Afghanistan—A joint investigation by NATO and Afghan officials into the burning of copies of the Quran that triggered riots and more than 30 deaths is nearly complete, and preliminary findings could be released within days, Western officials said Wednesday.

A legal official with the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force said the joint investigation will provide a broad conclusion into the circumstances that led to last week's disposal of a number of Qurans and other Islamic texts in a burn pit at a U.S. military base north of the capital. The official said it also might include some recommendations on how to avoid such actions in the future.

The incident has set off one of the most vicious rounds of anti-American protests in years. It erupted as NATO is trying to lower its profile and turn security control over to Afghan forces ahead of a planned 2014 end of combat operations.

Western officials said that the report could be released by the end of the week.

All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still in progress.

The ISAF official said it might also include recommendations for disciplinary action, but those are expected to be included -- if necessary -- in a more detailed report that will be ready sometime next month. That report was ordered the day after the incident by Marine Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan. Allen can accept the recommendations or make his own, the official said.

The investigation is being conducted jointly with Afghan officials.

If any action is taken against American troops involved, it would come under the U.S. military justice system, the ISAF official said.

A separate investigation by a group comprising representatives from the country's council of Muslim clerics, members of parliament and government officials was delivered to President Hamid Karzai days after the incident. Karzai could release its findings as early as this weekend.

Karzai has appealed for calm and said earlier in the week that he has "asked for punishment and an investigation."

The unrest started on Feb. 21 after Afghan workers at the sprawling American base north of Kabul noticed that Quran texts and other Islamic books were in the trash that coalition troops dumped into a pit where garbage is burned. Some Afghan workers burned their fingers as they tried to salvage some of the books. Afghan government officials said initial reports indicated four Quran texts were burned.

The materials were taken from a library at Parwan Detention Facility, which adjoins the base, because they contained extremist messages or inscriptions. Writing inside a Quran is forbidden in the Islamic faith, and it is unclear whether the handwritten messages were found in the holy books. A military official said at the time that it appeared detainees were exchanging messages by making notations in the texts.

The ISAF official said the investigation, led by a U.S. brigadier general, included numerous interviews, an inventory of material retried from the burn pit and a review of materials in the library.

More than 30 people, including four U.S. soldiers, have been killed in protests and related attacks since the incident came to light.

In the highest profile attack, two U.S. military advisers were found dead in their office Saturday at the Interior Ministry in the heart of the capital with shots to the back of their heads. The killings inside one of the city's most heavily guarded buildings raised doubts about safety as coalition troops continue their withdrawal.

The incident prompted NATO, Britain, Canada, Germany and France to recall hundreds of international advisers from all Afghan ministries in the capital. The advisers are key to helping improve governance and prepare the country's security forces to take on more responsibility.

The Taliban claimed that the gunman was one of their sympathizers.

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