The United States has expressed deep regret at the Koran-burning incidents at Bagram, Afghanistan, with Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta saying, “I apologise to the Afghan people and disapprove of such conduct in the strongest possible terms. These actions do not represent the views of the U.S. military.”

According to reports copies of the Koran were “inadvertently” incinerated at Bagram airbase after alleged suspicions that “Taliban prisoners were using the books to pass messages to each other.”

‘Unfortunate'

Mr. Panetta said that International Security Assistance Force Commander General John Allen had notified him of the “deeply unfortunate incident involving the inappropriate treatment of religious materials, including the Koran, at Bagram Airbase,” on Tuesday.

General Allen and U.S. Deputy Defence Secretary Ashton Carter called on Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday to apologise again for the incident at Bagram airbase, the President's office said.

Pointing out that the U.S. soldiers “honour and respect the religious practices of the Afghan people, without exception,” Mr. Panetta said that he supported General Allen's swift and decisive action to investigate this matter jointly with the Afghan government and would ensure that the U.S. took “all steps necessary and appropriate so that this never happens again.”

His sentiments were echoed by remarks made by White House Spokesman Jay Carney, who said at a media briefing, “We apologise to the Afghan people and disapprove of such conduct in the strongest possible terms.” He also described the incident as “regrettable.”

Nine protesters killed

AFP reports from Kabul:

At least nine demonstrators were shot dead and dozens wounded on Wednesday in violent protests across Afghanistan over the burning of the Koran , officials said.

The Afghan Interior Ministry blamed at least one of the deaths on “foreign guards of Camp Phoenix,” a U.S. military base in eastern Kabul attacked by protesters, but most were attributed by local officials to clashes with the police.

The Ministry said it would investigate all the deaths, blaming some of them on “security guards” at unnamed foreign bases.

A spokesman said it was not known whether the guards were Afghans or foreigners.

In Kabul and in provinces to the east, north and south of the capital, furious Afghans took to the streets screaming “Death to America”, throwing rocks and setting fire to shops and vehicles as gunshots rang out. In the eastern city of Jalalabad, students set fire to an effigy of U.S. President Barack Obama, and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul went into lockdown.

More In: International | News