Hundreds of Afghans rallied in Kabul to denounce an American church's plans to burn the Islamic holy book on Sept. 11.
According to reports by the Associated Press, a crowd in Kabul numbering as many as 500 chanted "Long live Islam" and "Death to America" as they listened to fiery speeches from members of parliament, provincial council deputies, and Islamic clerics who criticized the U.S. and demanded the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country. Rocks were thrown when a U.S. military convoy passed, but speakers called on those in the crowd to stop and told police to arrest anyone who disobeyed.
The rally came in reaction to plans announced by the Gainesville, Florida-based Dove World Outreach Center to burn copies of the Koran to mark the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The group has been denied a permit to set a bonfire on its grounds. The church, which made headlines last year for distributing T-shirts that said "Islam is of the Devil," has vowed to proceed with the burning.
"We know this is not just the decision of a church. It is the decision of the president and the entire United States," said Abdul Shakoor, an 18-year-old high school student in Kabul, who said he joined the protest after hearing about the Koran burning.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued a statement condemning Dove World Outreach Center's plans. The embassy says Washington is "deeply concerned about deliberate attempts to offend members of religious or ethnic groups."
Protesters gathered in front of Kabul's Milad ul-Nabi mosque to raise placards and flags emblazoned with slogans calling for the death of Obama, while police looked on. They burned American flags and a cardboard effigy of Dove World Outreach Center's pastor, Terry Jones, before dispersing peacefully.
Muslims consider the Koran or Quran to be the word of God and demand it, along with any printed material containing its verses or the name of Allah or the Prophet Muhammad, be treated with the utmost respect. Any intentional damage or show of disrespect to the Quran is considered deeply offensive.
The protests come as violence increases in the country, with the infusion of 30,000 additional U.S. troops. That brings the total number of foreign forces in Afghanistan to more than 140,000. Operations have been stepped-up ahead of next week's parliamentary elections. An ongoing campaign to drive the Taliban from its southern strongholds are also boosting the numbers of dead and wounded.
NATO announced an American service member was killed in fighting in the country's turbulent east on Sunday. The death was the fifth among U.S. troops in Afghanistan in September, following the deaths of more than 220 American troops over the past three months. This year is already the bloodiest for American forces in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion, with at least 321 killed so far.