Seven United Nations staff members were among the 12 people killed in an attack Friday (April 1) on the U.N. mission office in Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, according to reports.
“We can confirm that the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) operations center in Mazar-i-Sharif, in northern Afghanistan has been attacked today following a demonstration,” Dan McNorton, the mission’s spokesperson, said in statement on Friday. “We can also confirm that there have been U.N. personnel deaths.”
Three U.N. staff members - one Norwegian, one Swedish and another Romanian - and four Nepalese guards were killed Friday, according to U.N. top envoy to Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura.
In an attempt to escape the mob, the U.N. workers dashed into a dark bunker, de Mistura said, as reported by The Associated Press.
“They were killed when they were running out of the bunker,” he told reporters on Saturday. “One was pulled out alive because he pretended to be a Muslim.”
De Mistura said the demonstration, which was meant to be peaceful, was infiltrated by insurgents.
“This was a demonstration of two to three thousand people. It was planned as a peaceful demonstration, but it was infiltrated by insurgents who carried guns and who manipulated the crowd,” he said. “Afghan police were caught by surprise at how quickly the demonstration turned violent.”
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has sent his condolences to the governments of Nepal, Norway, Sweden and Romania over the attack.
There are conflicting reports on the exact number of casualties from the violent attack and on how many were U.N. employees. A number of news agencies initially said that up to 20 people were killed, including at least seven U.N. staff and guards. Five Afghans were also reportedly among the fatalities.
Over the weekend, at least nine more deaths and 81 injuries were reported as demonstrations over the reported burning of the Quran by a religious group in the U.S. state of Florida spread.
An update by newspaper Christian Today says the death toll has reached 24 as of Monday (April 4) with demonstrations continuing thoughout Afghanistan.
Members of the international community, including U.S. President Barack Obama, condemned the attack, the second major one on a U.N. office in Afghanistan in the last few years. In November 2009, the U.N. guesthouse in Kabul was bombed, claiming the lives of five U.N. foreign workers, two Afghan security personnel and a relative of a well-known Afghan politician. The U.N. relocated up to 600 of its international staff in Afghanistan following that attack.
>> UN Pulls out Foreign Staff from Afghanistan
Friday’s attack followed a demonstration led by thousands of Afghans angered by the reported burning of the Quran. The protestors came from the Blue Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif before attacking the U.N. office, the New York Times says, citing Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai, spokesperson of Gen. Daoud Daoud, the commander of the Afghan National Police northern Afghanistan.
De Mistura blamed those who burned a copy of the Quran in Gainesville, Florida, last month, for the attack, AP reports.
“The demonstration was meant to protest against the insane and totally despicable gesture by one person who burned the holy Quran,” he said.
The U.S.-based Dove World Outreach Center said on its website that it burned a Quran March 21. The religious group’s leader, Terry Jones, earned international attention last year when he announced plans to burn copies of the Quran in commemoration of the Sept. 11 attacks.
De Mistura, as well as several U.S. officials and lawmakers have condemned the Quran burning, warning it could put the lives of aid workers in the Islamic nation at risk. >> UN: Burning of Quran May Imperil Aid Workers in Afghanistan
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