REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- The Afghan Interior Ministry acknowledged Sunday that one of its workers was the key suspect in the deaths of two American military officers who were gunned down at their desks in a tightly guarded command-and-control center.
The attack Saturday prompted the commander of the NATO force in Afghanistan, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, to take the unprecedented step of immediately pulling Western military advisors out of Afghan government ministries. The incident calls into serious question Western forces' willingness to continue in training and advisory roles to Afghan troops and government bodies amid a spate of what officials call turncoat shootings.
The suspect remained at large, the ministry said in a statement, adding that "serious efforts by Afghan security forces are underway to capture him."
For the NATO force, the attack was particularly worrying because the suspect is an individual with access to highly sensitive information. Afghan officials said he is a 25-year-old intelligence officer who had obtained the numerical code needed to enter the restricted area where the two American officers were working. U.S. officials said the two were shot in the back of the head as they sat at their desks.
The disclosure came as protests over the burning of copies of the Koran at a U.S. base continued for a sixth day Sunday. However, the deadly violence that had marked demonstrations last week appeared to be ebbing.
President Hamid Karzai, speaking on nationwide television, called on protesters Sunday to be calm and await the result of U.S. and Afghan investigations into the Koran-burning incident last week at a base north of Kabul. He also said he expected the pullout of Western advisors from government ministries to be a temporary measure, and expressed condolences over the Americans' deaths.
-- Aimal Yaqubi
Photo: Demonstrators carry an effigy of President Obama at a protest Sunday in Jaffarabad, Pakistan, over the burning of copies of the Koran by U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Credit: Zahid Hussein / EPA