U.N. Employees Beheaded Over Quran Burning

Attack is believed to be the deadliest against the United Nations in Afghanistan

At least seven United Nations workers are dead, including two who were beheaded, after officials said a protest in Afghanistan of a Florida pastor's burning of the Quran turned violent Friday, Reuters is reporting.

The Rev. Terry Jones, who made international news when he threatened to burn more than 200 copies of the Quran to commemorate 9/11 in Gainesville, carried out on his threat to very little fanfare on March 20.

Last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a statement calling the burning a "crime against a religion."

He denounced it as a "disrespectful and abhorrent act" and called on the U.S. and the United Nations to bring to justice those who burned the holy book and issue a response to Muslims around the world.

Jones' action caused the reaction most U.S. officials feared - a deadly response by radical Islamic followers.

A rally with thousands of people in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif turned violent in just three hours and angry protests soon turned their attention to U.N. peacekeepers and their compound.

The protesters stormed into the compound where they attacked the victims. The chief of the mission in the city was wounded but survived, and the dead included employees of Norwegian, Romanian and Swedish nationalities, a source told Reuters.

If the death toll given by the Afghan police is correct, it would make it the deadliest attack on the United Nations in Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama denounced the attack on the U.N.

"Their work is essential to building a stronger Afghanistan for the benefit of all its citizens. We stress the importance of calm and urge all parties to reject violence and resolve differences through dialogue," Obama said.

Jones had originally tried to use the Quran burning as leverage to stop a mosque from being built near the Ground Zero site in New York.

Those plans are slated to continue, but the threat got the attention of millions of Muslims and Obama, who called Jones asking him to back down.

Jones is the pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center, a church with about 50 members.

He held a mock trial for a single copy of the Quran, which he declared guilty of crimes and executed it by soaking it in kerosene and lighting it on fire. Only about 30 people attended.

Jones said the burning was "a once in a life time experience."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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