Police ‘hunt Afghan suspect’ in Kabul killings

KABUL — Police are hunting for an Afghan intelligence official suspected of shooting dead two US officers at the interior ministry in Kabul amid violent anti-US protests, a government source said Sunday.

By (AFP)

Published: Sun 26 Feb 2012, 2:53 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 10:59 AM

“A police officer who worked for the intelligence department of the ministry of interior has disappeared — officials believe he is the suspect, and they are looking for him,” an official in the ministry told AFP.

NATO on Saturday pulled all its staff out of Afghan government ministries after the shooting, which came as anti-US protests raged for a fifth day over the burning of Korans at a US-run military base.

Local television quoted a source as naming the suspect as a 25-year-old who had studied in Pakistan and joined the ministry as a driver in 2007 before being promoted.

He had signed into the ministry on Saturday before disappearing. The two US officers were found dead in their office with gunshot wounds.

Taliban insurgents have claimed responsibility for the shooting, saying it was in revenge for the Koran burning — an incident that forced US President Barack Obama to apologise to the Afghan people.

NATO, which has a 130,000-strong US-led military force fighting the Taliban insurgency, has advisors throughout the Afghan government but commanding officer General John Allen ordered them all withdrawn after the shooting.

The explosion of outrage over the burning of the Koran at Bagram airbase north of Kabul has plunged relations between Afghans and their Western allies to an all time low, analysts say.

“It has never been as bad as this and it could be a turning point” in the West’s 10-year mission in the war-torn country, said Martine van Bijlert of the Afghanistan Analysts’ Network.

“There has been a very serious case of undermined trust and it really depends on whether it goes further downhill from here or the two sides get a chance to repair the damage,” she told AFP.

At the heart of the escalating crisis is fear over Afghanistan’s future when US-led NATO forces end combat operations in the war against Taliban insurgents in 2014 and hand security responsibility to the Afghan government.

“Fuses are very short, everybody is deeply concerned over the transition in 2014 and that has enhanced violent competition across the country,” said Candace Rondeaux of the International Crisis Group.

“Relations have changed drastically. An accumulated sense of anxiety, anger and resentment has been building up for some time and it took a singular event — the Koran burning — to ignite a very big fire,” she told AFP.

President Hamid Karzai’s government and NATO forces have appealed for calm and restraint, fearful that Taliban insurgents are trying to exploit the anti-American backlash.

The US rushed to condemn the burning of Islam’s holy book at the Bagram base, with Obama apologising to the Afghan people for what he said was a mistake and pledging the perpetrators would be punished.

But furious Afghans took to the streets across the country and tried to attack French, Norwegian, UN and US bases, shouting “Death to America” after the Taliban exhorted their countrymen to kill foreign troops in revenge.

At least 30 people died in five days of violent protests, including two US troops shot dead when an Afghan soldier turned his weapon on them as protesters approached their base in eastern Afghanistan.

Cases of Afghan security forces turning on their Western allies have increased in recent years, with a leaked classified coalition report saying last month that they “reflect a rapidly growing systemic homicide threat”.

Four French soldiers were gunned down by an Afghan colleague last month, prompting President Nicolas Sarkozy to announce an accelerated withdrawal of combat troops in 2013.

The Pentagon said the killings in the interior ministry were “unacceptable” and called on Afghan authorities to better protect coalition forces and curtail raging violence.

The Koran burning has inflamed anti-Western sentiment already smouldering in Afghanistan over abuses by US-led foreign troops, such as the release last month of a video showing US Marines urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban.

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