WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Saturday that the killings in Afghanistan after a fundamentalist Christian U.S. preacher burned a Quran were "outrageous" while calling the desecration of the holy text an act of bigotry.
"The desecration of any holy text, including the Quran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry," Obama said in a statement released by the White House.
"However, to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous, and an affront to human decency and dignity," he said.
At least 10 people have been killed and 83 injured in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, officials said on Saturday, on a second day of violent protests over the actions of extremist Christian preacher Terry Jones, who supervised the burning of the Quran in front of about 50 people at a church in Florida on March 20, according to his website.
A suicide attack also hit a NATO military base in the capital Kabul, the day after protesters overran a U.N. mission in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and killed seven foreign staff in the deadliest attack on the U.N. in Afghanistan.
'Dishonorable and deplorable'
"No religion tolerates the slaughter and beheading of innocent people, and there is no justification for such a dishonorable and deplorable act," Obama said.
"Now is a time to draw upon the common humanity that we share, and that was so exemplified by the U.N. workers who lost their lives trying to help the people of Afghanistan."
Obama did not mention Jones by name in his statement.
In an interview with Reuters at the tiny church he leads in Gainesville, Fla., Jones was unrepentant and vowed to lead an anti-Islam demonstration later this month in front of the largest mosque in the United States, located in Dearborn, Mich.Story: Pastor who burned Koran demands retribution
Last year, Jones threatened to burn a Quran but did not end up following through at that time. His threat last year came amid controversy over plans by Muslim leaders seeking to build an Islamic center and mosque near the site of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York.
Obama appealed to Americans then to respect religious freedom while warning that burning the Quran would endanger U.S. troops abroad.
The recent burning initially passed relatively unnoticed in Afghanistan, but after criticism from President Hamid Karzai and calls for justice during Friday sermons, thousands poured into the streets in several cities to denounce Jones.
The United States has said it would help the United Nations in any way after the attack.
Obama said in his statement that the American people honor the people killed in the attack on the United Nations in Mazar-i-Sharif.
"Once again, we extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those who were killed, and to the people of the nations that they came from."Video: Deadly riots continue in Afghanistan (on this page)
Details of the attack
In Afghanistan, new details emerged about the attack. The top U.N. envoy there, Staffan de Mistura, said the U.N. workers had dashed into a dark bunker hoping to escape the mob. But the door was broken in.
"They were killed when they were running out of the bunker," said de Mistura, who recounted their deaths to reporters on Saturday evening. "One was pulled out alive because he pretended to be a Muslim."
De Mistura spoke in a somber tone as he described how three U.N. staff members and four Nepalese guards were killed Friday when the protesters stormed their compound in the normally peaceful city of Mazar-i-Sharif. He placed direct blame on those who burned the copy of the Muslim holy book in Florida.
"The demonstration was meant to protest against the insane and totally despicable gesture by one person who burned the holy Quran," he said.
He also said the U.N. building would not have been attacked if there had been an adequate cordon of Afghan police separating the demonstrators and the compound.Slideshow: Afghanistan: Nation at a crossroads (on this page)
A formal inquiry is under way, but de Mistura said initial reports indicate that seven to 15 insurgents infiltrated a group of as many as 3,000 demonstrators who overran the U.N. compound, which was protected by Afghan policemen and six U.N.-hired Nepalese guards. The crowd overpowered the guards — who are instructed not to shoot into crowds of civilians, even if they are threatening — and the police were not able to stop them, he said.
When the killers forced themselves inside they saw Pavel Ershov, the mission chief who is fluent in Dari, one of two languages spoken in Afghanistan. They beat him, but stopped after he convinced them, in Dari, that he was a Muslim, de Mistura said.
"He spoke the language and tried to draw their attention on himself," the envoy said. "For a moment, he hoped that they would think there was nobody else there."
But using a light, the attackers found the three other foreigners, then pulled them out and killed them one after the other. Two died of bullet wounds. The third was killed with a knife to the throat.
They were identified by officials in their home countries as: Joakim Dungel, a 33-year-old Swede who worked on human rights; Lt. Col. Siri Skare, a 53-year-old female pilot from Norway who was an adviser; and Filaret Motco, a 43-year-old Romanian who worked in the political section of the U.N.
This report includes information from Reuters and The Associated Press.
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