Violent protests in Afghanistan over the inadvertent burning of copies of the Quran by U.S. personnel left at least seven people dead and dozens injured Wednesday, laying bare the degree of anger against the West after more than a decade of war.
U.S. officials worked to contain the fallout from the incident, which came at a delicate juncture of the conflict, as the Obama administration seeks a political accommodation with the Taliban and tries to seal a long-term accord with the Afghan administration governing the American presence here.
In protests that spread to several locales across the country, hundreds of Afghans burned tires, threw stones and chanted "Death to America!" Foreign embassies and international organizations urged Westerners in the capital and elsewhere to keep a low profile.
The unrest erupted after Afghan laborers at the sprawling Bagram Airfield noticed bags of Qurans among trash that was bound for the installation's giant incinerator late Monday. They managed to prevent some of the copies from being burned, and showed the scorched remnants of others to people living near the base, prompting a groundswell of outrage.
Tuesday, hours after the incident came to light, the top Western commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Marine Gen. John R. Allen, apologized profusely and ordered immediate training for all Western troops on the proper handling of religious materials.
Nearly a year ago, another Quran-burning episode -- this one deliberate, staged by a fundamentalist preacher in Florida -- set off violence in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Seven foreign workers from the United Nations were killed when their base was overrun.
Wednesday's protests took place at several symbolic sites: outside a U.S. base on the eastern edge of Kabul known as Camp Phoenix, near the Afghan parliament building, along the main highway connecting the capital to the Pakistan border and in the province where the episode occurred.
The Interior Ministry said four of the deaths occurred in Parwan, the province that includes the Bagram base. Deaths were also reported in Kabul, in the eastern city of Jalalabad and in Logar province, outside the capital. More than two dozen people were injured, some seriously, Afghan officials said.
"They are careless with our holy things, and they are careless with our country," said a grim-faced Wali Aziz, who closed down his shop in Kabul early, fearing that crowds might try to march on the complex housing the U.S. Embassy.
An investigation was quickly launched to determine, among other things, why the holy books, previously used by detainees at a large military prison adjoining the Bagram base, were being discarded.
U.S. military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said prisoners were passing the Qurans and other religious texts back-and-forth with messages written in them.