KABUL — A suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into the gates of a NATO base and airport in eastern Afghanistan yesterday, triggering a blast that killed nine Afghans, officials said. The Taliban claimed the attack was revenge for US troops’ burning copies of the Koran.
The bombing in the city of Jalalabad follows six days of deadly protests in the country over the disposal of Korans and other Islamic texts in a burn pit last week at a US military base north of Kabul.
American officials have called the disposal of the books a mistake and have issued a series of apologies. President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has urged calm, calling on his countrymen not to allow insurgents to capitalize on the indignation to spark violence.
About 40 people have been killed in protests and related attacks since the incident became known last Tuesday, including four US soldiers. NATO, France, Britain, and the United States have pulled their advisers from Afghan ministries out of concern that the antiforeigner anger might erupt again.
Yesterday, the United Nations also scaled back its operations, moving its international staff from an office in the northern city of Kunduz that was attacked during protests Saturday, the organization said in a statement.
The evacuation was ordered “to put in place additional arrangements and measures to make sure the office can continue to operate in safety,’’ the UN said, adding that the move is temporary and that staff will be relocated within Afghanistan.
Despite the pullback, the commander of NATO and US forces in Afghanistan said that the partnership with the Afghan government was as strong as ever.
“We are steadfast in our desire to support our Afghan partners and will use the extensive range of our resources to eradicate this heartless insurgency,’’ General John Allen said in a statement condemning the Jalalabad bombing.
In yesterday’s attack, the bomber drove up to the gates of the airport, which primarily serves international military aircraft, and detonated his explosives in a “very strong’’ blast shortly after daybreak, said Hazrad Mohammad, a Nangarhar provincial police spokesman.
Among the dead were six civilians, two airport guards, and one soldier, Mohammad said. Another six people were wounded, he said. An AP photographer saw at least four mangled, charred cars at the site of the blast.
Captain Justin Brockhoff, a NATO forces spokesman, said no international forces were killed in the attack and the base was not breached by the blast.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying a suicide car bomber had driven up to the airport gate and detonated his explosives as international forces were changing from night to morning guard duty.
“This attack is revenge against those soldiers who burned our Koran,’’ said a Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, in an e-mail.
Afghan officials, including the ministers of defense and interior, canceled planned visits to Washington this week so they could remain in Kabul for consultations about how to quell the violence, US officials said.
In the highest-profile attack, two military advisers were found dead Saturday in their office at the Interior Ministry in the heart of the capital, with shots to the back of their heads.
The killings prompted NATO, Britain, and France to recall hundreds of international advisers from Afghan ministries. The advisers are key to helping improve governance and preparing the country’s security forces to take on more responsibility ahead of the drawdown of Western forces planned for 2014.
The United States had already pulled its advisers from Afghan government offices. The Canadian government also canceled all meetings in Afghan ministries, according to a spokesman.
Police were still searching yesterday for the suspect, an Afghan man who worked as a driver for an office on the same floor as the advisers who were killed, said an official at the Interior Ministry who spoke anonymously to discuss ongoing operations. Two shots were fired at the first victim and eight at the second, the official said.
The Taliban said the shooter was one of their sympathizers and that an accomplice had helped him get into the compound to kill the Americans in retaliation for the Koran burnings.
The Taliban also claimed yesterday that they had poisoned soldiers at a US base in the east by recruiting a cook who worked there. NATO rejected the report.