Afghan and US reports fail to agree on Koran burning


Conflicting conclusions appear to have emerged from two inquiries into the burning of the Koran at Bagram airbase, amid reports that British war graves in Libya were desecrated in retaliation for the mishandling of the holy book.

The burning of the Koran by Nato troops has sparked riots and violence across Afghanistan and the Muslim world. It prompted an apology from the head of foreign forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, and President Barack Obama, who expressed regret in a letter to President Hamid Karzai.

Yesterday, early findings of a joint investigation ordered by General Allen, and conducted by senior US and Afghan officials, suggested that at least five servicemen played a role in discarding the Korans in a burn pit at Bagram, but their actions were a mistake. A separate probe, ordered by Mr Karzai and carried out by religious leaders, found that US soldiers lied and burned the Korans on purpose.

An unidentified Western source told the Associated Press (AP) news agency that when prison officials became aware that detainees were scribbling extremist messages into library books, including copies of the Koran, they ordered two Afghan-American interpreters to search the library. They seized 1,652 items that were to be destroyed owing to lack of storage.

Before the books could be disposed of properly, three soldiers removed the items and put them in a pit to be burned, without knowing what the items were. Charred items, including Korans, were found by Afghan workers on 20 February. The soldiers may now face disciplinary action.

Meanwhile, video film emerged yesterday of armed men vandalising more than 200 Second World Ward graves of British and Italian servicemen in Benghazi, Libya, last week. The British embassy in Tripoli reported the matter of the Libyan foreign ministry and police. The National Transitional Council said the damage was "unethical, irresponsible and criminal" and vowed to investigate.

Islamic hardliners were blamed for the vandalism, with the AFP agency citing reports which suggested they were angered by the burning of the Koran at Bagram.