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March 31, 2011

US 'Deeply Shocked' by UN Killings in Afghanistan

The United States is expressing deep shock and sadness over a mob attack on a United Nations compound in Afghanistan Friday that killed at least 12 people. The Afghan crowd reportedly was angered by the burning of a Quran last month at a Florida church, an act the State Department called contrary to U.S. traditions.

U.S. reaction was led by President Barack Obama who condemned the attack on the U.N. mission in the strongest possible terms, and appealed to all parties in Afghanistan to reject violence and resolve differences through dialogue.

The deaths occurred Friday when a demonstration outside the U.N. Assistance Mission in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-I-Sharif turned violent, with protestors storming the compound and setting fire to buildings.

News reports said those killed included Nepalese U.N. guards and European staff members and a number of local Afghans. The incident was believed to be the deadliest attack on the United Nations in Afghanistan since 2001.

In his written statement offering condolences to families of the victims, President Obama said the U.N. aid mission’s work is essential to building a stronger Afghanistan for the benefit of all its people.

The Afghan protest was reportedly spurred by the burning of a Quran two weeks ago at a small Christian church in Florida.   A pastor at the same church had threatened to burn the Muslim holy book last year but relented amid appeals from U.S. officials.

At a news briefing, State Department Acting Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said the Florida church is outside the U.S. religious mainstream and its actions contrary to American values.

"We’ve been very clear in stating this is an isolated act done by a small group of people, and it’s indeed very contrary to the American peoples’ traditions. This doesn’t reflect the respect that the people of the United States have towards Islam, and we absolutely reject this kind of religious intolerance," Toner said.

In expressing deep shock and sadness over the deaths in Mazar-I-Sharif, spokesman Toner said there is no justification for the murders of innocent people.

Speaking in Nairobi, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon also said the attack - which he called "outrageous and cowardly" cannot be justified under any circumstances.

The U.N. chief dispatched his envoy in Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, to Mazar-I-Sharif to assess the situation and take "any necessary measures" to ensure the security of remaining U.N. personnel.