KABUL, Afghanistan (The Blaze/AP) — A suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into the gates of a NATO base and airport in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, triggering a blast that killed nine Afghans, officials said. The Taliban claimed the attack was revenge for U.S. troops burning copies of the Koran.
The bombing in the city of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan follows six days of deadly protests in the country over the disposal of Korans and other Islamic texts in a burn pit last week at a U.S. military base north of Kabul.
American officials have called the incident a mistake and issued a series of apologies, the most noteworthy of which coming from U.S. President Barack Obama. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has urged calm, calling on his countrymen not to let the insurgents capitalize on their indignation to spark violence.
Monday’s attack appeared to be a sign that the Taliban are seizing the opportunity to do just that.
Shortly after daybreak, the bomber drove up to the gates of the airport, which primarily serves international military aircraft, and detonated his explosives in a “very strong” blast, said Nangarhar provincial police spokesman Hazrad Mohammad.
Among the dead were six civilians, two airport guards and one soldier, Mohammad said. Another six people were wounded, he said.
An AP photographer saw at least four mangled, charred cars at the site 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.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying a suicide car bomber had driven up to the airport gate and detonated his explosives as international forces were changing from night to morning guard duty.
“This attack is revenge against those soldiers who burned our Kuran,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in an email.
More than 30 people have been killed in protests and related attacks since the incident came to light this past Tuesday, including four U.S. soldiers.
On Sunday, demonstrators hurled grenades at a small U.S. base in northern Afghanistan and the ensuing gun battle left two Afghans dead and seven NATO troops injured.
Still, the top U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan said Sunday that the violence would not change Washington’s course.
“Tensions are running very high here, and I think we need to let things calm down, return to a more normal atmosphere, and then get on with business,” Ambassador Ryan Crocker told CNN. Afghan officials, including the defense and interior ministers, canceled planned visits to Washington this coming week so they could remain in Kabul for consultations about how to quell the violence, U.S. officials said.
In the highest-profile attack, two military advisers were found dead in their office at the Interior Ministry in the heart of the capital with shots to the back of their heads.
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. had already pulled its advisers from Afghan government offices. The Canadian government also canceled all meetings in Afghan ministries, according to a spokesman.
Police were still searching Monday for the suspect – an Afghan man who worked as a driver for an office on the same floor as the advisers who were killed, said an official at the Interior Ministry who spoke anonymously to discuss ongoing operations. Eight shots were fired at the men – two at the first victim and eight at the second, the official said.
The Taliban claimed that the shooter was one of their sympathizers and that an accomplice had helped him get into the compound to kill the Americans in retaliation for the Koran burnings.