United States President Barack Obama has issued a letter of apology to the Afghan people for the Koran-burning incident at Bagram, Afghanistan, following which three days of intense protests have engulfed parts of the country. “I wish to express my deep regret for the reported incident. I extend to you and the Afghan people my sincere apologies,” Mr. Obama said in a letter handed to Afghan President Hamid Karzai by U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker on Thursday afternoon.

His apology comes close on the heels of similar statements issued by U.S. Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta and International Security Assistance Force chief John Allen, who reacted to the incident near Bagram airbase in which copies of the Koran were said to have been “inadvertently” incinerated following suspicions that “Taliban prisoners were using the books to pass messages to each other”.

In his letter Mr. Obama described the episode as an inadvertent “error”, adding, “We will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, including holding accountable those responsible.”

The protests that followed after the burning of the religious material became public saw at least nine persons killed and reports said some of the marches saw Mr. Obama “mocked in effigy” by Afghan protesters.

By Thursday the protests had intensified across Afghanistan, spreading to six or more provinces. The New York Times reported that Members of Parliament had begun to call upon Afghans to “take up arms against the American military and Western officials”, and one MP, Abdul Sattar Khawasi from Parwan Province, was quoted as saying, “Americans are invaders, and jihad against Americans is an obligation.”

The episode is likely to bring back memories of an event closer to home in 2010, when the Obama administration extended significant efforts to block a Florida pastor, Terry Jones, from burning the Koran. At the time Mr. Obama had warned that if he went ahead with the controversial action it would be a “recruitment bonanza for al-Qaeda”.

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