WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama apologized Thursday, February 23, for the burning of copies of the Noble Qur'an at a US military base in Afghanistan, as protests continued unabated against the desecration of the Muslim holy book.
"I convey my deep sympathies and ask you and the people to accept my deep apologies," Obama said in a letter to Afghan President Hamid Karzia and cited by the BBC News Online.
"The error was inadvertent; I assure you that we will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible.
At least 11 people were killed and scores injured in three days of protests against the burning of copies of the Noble Qur'an at the Bagram airbase in Kabul.
Death to America chanted thousands of angry Afghans, as they hurled stones at security forces.
The fury started after Afghan laborers found charred copies of the Koran while collecting rubbish at Bagram.
"In the letter ... the president also expressed our regret and apologies over the incident in which religious materials were unintentionally mishandled at Bagram Airbase," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said, Reuters reported.
Karzai said an American officer had acted "out of ignorance and with poor understanding" of the Qur'an's importance, a presidential statement said.
Karzai's office said an investigation into the Qur'an burning would most likely be concluded later on Thursday.
Muslims consider the Koran the literal word of God and treat each book with deep reverence.
Desecration is considered one of the worst forms of blasphemy and there could be further trouble on Friday when the weekly prayers are held.
Similar incidents in the past have caused deep divisions and resentment among Afghans towards the tens of thousands of foreign troops in Afghanistan.
Seven foreign UN workers were killed during protests that raged across Afghanistan for three days in April 2011 after a US pastor burned the Qur'an in Florida.
Seizing on the incident, the Taliban have called on Afghan security forces to turn their guns on foreign troops following the Qur'an burning.
"(The) Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan calls on all the youth present in the security apparatus of the Kabul regime to fulfill their religious and national duty... by turning their guns on the foreign infidel invaders," the Taliban said on shahamat-english.com, using another name the group call themselves.
The call came shortly after an Afghan soldier joint the protests and shot dead two NATO troops at a base in Nangarhar province.
NATO confirmed a man in Afghan army uniform killed two of its troops in the east, but declined to say if the shooting was connected to the protests.
A small protest of around 500 people also turned violent in the capital Kabul, with gunfire crackling above the city as police and plain-clothed intelligence officers charged demonstrators wearing bandanas and hurling rocks and sticks, firing low above their heads and sending them fleeing.
A wounded youth lay on the frozen asphalt on a road, blood pouring from his side, according to Reuters.
Crouched over and cradling him, a relative appealed to the government to not hurt its own people.
"Ministry of the Interior! Don't you see we are fighting NATO?" said the man, who did not give his name.
Masked men sped by on a motorcycle blasting a battle song played by the Taliban insurgency, while police in machine gun-mounted pick-up trucks picked up the wounded.
"Our brave people must target the military bases of the invaders, their military convoys and their invader forces," read an e-mailed Taliban statement released by spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
"They have to kill them (Westerners), beat them and capture them to give them a lesson to never dare desecrate the holy Qur'an again."
Most Westerners were already confined to their heavily fortified compounds, including within the sprawling US embassy complex and nearby embassies in central Kabul.
Around 400 protesters hurled rocks and set fire to cars at a Norwegian-led military base in Faryab province on the Turkmen border, which is center for around 500 soldiers and civilians from Norway, Latvia, Macedonia, Iceland and the US.
Twelve protesters were wounded in the attack, the head of the regional hospital Abdul Alim said, but Norway's ambassador to Kabul, Tore Hattrem, told Reuters no one was hurt and there was minimal damage.A small number of protesters in the eastern Kapisa province also took aim at the French military base there, though police deterred them successfully, its police chief Abdul Hamid said.