REPORTING FROM WASHINGTON -- A U.S. military investigation into the burning of Muslim holy books confiscated from a prison in Afghanistan found that several enlisted soldiers misinterpreted an order to dispose of the books, which led to them being incinerated, an official familiar with the findings said.
Five U.S. soldiers were involved in confiscating the Korans, novels, pamphlets and other materials from a detention facility near Bagram air base in Afghanistan and dumping them in a burn pit, an incident that sparked days of violent riots and attacks on U.S. forces, the official said.
The materials were initially taken to a storage area, but enlisted soldiers told to dispose of the books assumed the order to mean the books should be thrown out, said the official, who requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak on the preliminary findings.
Afghan workers at the burn pit discovered the Korans just as they were catching fire and “started getting riled up” over the desecration of the holy books, according to the official. They removed the materials from the flames and later described the incident to Afghans outside Bagram, sparking riots that continued for days.
The inquiry is not likely to be completed and made public for several more weeks, the officials said.
In Kabul on Friday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with Islamic clerics who repeated demands that the U.S. soldiers be tried in Afghan courts.
The investigation backed the decision to confiscate the books, which were found to contain written messages between prisoners, including notes with “extremist” ideas, the official said.
-- David S. Cloud
Photo: A Pakistani boy holds a copy of the Koran at a rally Friday in Karachi condemning the burning of Muslim holy books at a U.S. military base in neighboring Afghanistan. Credit: Fareed Khan / Associated Press