The Taliban immediately claimed responsibility for the blast in the city of Jalalabad, stating it was in revenge for the burning that has caused an outcry in Afghanistan, triggering a wave of demonstrations and killings.
About 40 people have been killed in protests and related attacks since the incident became known last Tuesday, including four U.S. soldiers – two gunned down by a supposedly trusted Afghan driver in a secure ministry in the heart of the capital Kabul.
NATO, France, Britain and the U.S. have pulled their advisers from Afghan ministries out of concern that the anti-foreigner anger might erupt again.
President Barack Obama has apologised for the burning of Korans that had supposedly been used to pass messages between prisoners inside the giant US base at Bagram, 40 miles from Kabul.
In a bid to restore order, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has urged calm, calling on his countrymen not to allow insurgents to capitalize on their indignation to spark violence but protests and killings have continued.
Among the dead were six civilians, two airport guards and one soldier, he said. Another six people were wounded, he said. At least four cars were destroyed in the blast.
NATO forces spokesman Capt. Justin Brockhoff said that no international forces were killed in the attack and that the base was not breached by the blast.
Afghan officials, including the defence and interior ministers, cancelled planned visits to Washington this coming week so they could remain in Kabul for consultations about how to quell the violence.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility too for the murder of the two US officers saying they were helped into the compound by supporters because of the outrage over the burning of the Korans. No one has yet been arrested for the killings.
Eight shots were fired at the men – two at the first victim and eight at the second, the official said.
The groundswell of anger over the burning of the Koran, which Muslims revere as the literal word of God, has highlighted the challenges ahead as Western forces try to quell violence and bring about some form of reconciliation with the Taliban.
The United Nations also scaled back its operations, moving its international staff from an office in the northern city of Kunduz that was attacked during protests Saturday, the organisation said in a statement.
The evacuation was ordered ‘to put in place additional arrangements and measures to make sure the office can continue to operate in safety,’ the UN said, adding that the move is temporary and that staff will be relocated within Afghanistan.
Despite the pullback, the commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan said that the partnership with the Afghan government was as strong as ever.
‘We are steadfast in our desire to support our Afghan partners, and will use the extensive range of our resources to eradicate this heartless insurgency,’ General John Allen said in a statement condemning the Jalalabad bombing.
The incident prompted NATO, Britain and France to recall hundreds of international advisers from Afghan ministries.
The advisers are key to helping improve governance and preparing the country’s security forces to take on more responsibility ahead of the drawdown of Western forces planned for 2014.
The U.S. Embassy warned of a ‘heightened’ threat to American citizens in Afghanistan and many Westerners are on ‘lock down’, meaning they are not allowed out of their fortified compounds.
‘Tensions are running very high here. I think we need to let things calm down, return to a more normal atmosphere, and then get on with business,’ Ambassador Ryan Crocker said.
‘This is not the time to decide that we are done here. We have got to redouble our efforts. We’ve got to create a situation that Al Qaeda is not coming back.’
by Mike Hansom