An Afghan soldier joined protests on Thursday against the burning of copies of the Koran at a NATO base and shot dead two foreign troops, Western military sources said, as the Taliban urged security forces to turn their guns on foreigners.
Protests against the burning of copies of Islam's most holy book drew thousands of angry Afghans to the streets, chanting "Death to America!" for the third consecutive day in violence that has killed 11 people and wounded many more.
The Taliban urged Afghans to target foreign military bases and kill Westerners in retaliation for the Koran burning at Bagram airfield on Tuesday, later directing its plea to the security forces, calling on them to "turn their guns on the foreign infidel invaders," it said on its site shahamat-english.com.
In a demonstration in eastern Nangarhar province on Thursday, an Afghan soldier turned his gun on NATO soldiers, local officials and western military sources said. A provincial spokesman said the soldier then escaped.
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.
The Koran burnings at the vast Bagram base north of Kabul, which the United States has said were unintentional, could make it even more difficult for US-led NATO forces to win the hearts and minds of Afghans and bring the Taliban to the negotiating table ahead of the withdrawal of foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.
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 congregational prayers are held.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he received a "deep apology" from his US counterpart Barack Obama on Thursday, the presidential palace said in a statement, adding that Obama described the Koran burning incident as "an accident."
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. 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 the insurgency's 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 Koran again."
Norwegian base attacked
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 centre for around 500 soldiers and civilians from Norway, Latvia, Macedonia, Iceland and the United States.
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 took aim at the French military base there, though police deterred them successfully, its police chief Abdul Hamid said.
The venting of fury could complicate efforts by US and NATO forces to reach agreement with the Afghan government on a strategic pact that would allow a sharply reduced number of Western troops to stay in the country, well beyond their combat exit deadline, to oversee Afghan forces.
Underscoring these concerns, hundreds of students in Jalalabad rejected any strategic pact with the United States, saying they would "take up jihad" if one were sealed.
The US government and the American commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan apologized for the burnings after Afghan laborers found charred copies of the Koran while collecting rubbish at Bagram.
A report into the incident by NATO investigators and a team of senior Afghan clerics was to be handed to Karzai as soon as Thursday.
Martine van Bijlert, from the respected Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), said the demonstrations were a combination of religious outrage, pent-up frustration over economic and security conditions, and groups wanting to stir trouble.
"There have been different kinds of outrage. One is the bewilderment felt by many Afghans, and foreigners, that after ten years of efforts in Afghanistan there was apparently still no understanding of how inflammatory mistakes like that are made," van Bijlert said on the AAN website.
"Second, there is the pent-up anger and frustration with the international military, but also with life in general."