Two members of the U.S. military were shot dead on Saturday inside the heavily barricaded Interior Ministry in the centre of the Afghan capital, Afghan security sources said, as anti-Western protests raged for a fifth day across the country.
It was not immediately clear who killed the Americans, said one Afghan security source. They were gunned down during a scuffle, another source said.
American and Afghan troops were present at the time of the shootout, but we are unsure who killed them, a senior Afghan security source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
A spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said they were aware of an accident in central Kabul, but declined to give more details.
The shootings took place as fury over the burning of copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, at a NATO base continued to grip the country.
Four Afghans were shot dead by Afghan security forces as demonstrations stretched to a fifth day, with an attempt by demonstrators to bombard a U.N. compound in the north.
The burning of the Korans at the Bagram compound this week has deepened public mistrust of NATO forces struggling to stabilise Afghanistan before foreign combat troops withdraw by end-2014.
Despite an apology from U.S. President Barack Obama and a call for restraint from Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, thousands took to the streets after 12 people were killed and dozens wounded on Friday, the bloodiest day yet in demonstrations.
On Thursday, an Afghan national army soldier joined the protests and gunned down two Americans.
ATTEMPTS TO ATTACK UN BUILDING
Protests raged in the restive northern Kunduz province, where three protesters were shot dead and 50 wounded, said health official Saad Mukhtar.
Hundreds of people tried to overrun a compound there housing workers from the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), but were held back by police, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said.
A similar incident occurred in April last year when protesters angry over the burning of Korans by an obscure pastor in the United States stormed a U.N. compound in northern Balkh province, killing seven.
A protester was shot dead in Logar province south of Kabul on Saturday after hundreds of protesters, many chanting Death to America! - a slogan heard at protests throughout this week -- charged at police, local officials said. Two people were wounded.
Twenty people were wounded when demonstrators hurled stones in eastern Laghman province, health official Abdul Qayumi said.
The capital, Kabul, was calm, with police and security forces deployed across the city.
Muslims consider the Koran to be the literal word of God and treat each copy with deep reverence. Desecration is considered one of the worst forms of blasphemy.
The Koran burnings underscore the deep cultural divide that still exists more than 10 years after U.S. troops invaded to oust the Taliban and have deepened public mistrust of the West.
The protests could dent plans for a strategic pact that Washington is considering with Kabul, which would allow a sharply reduced number of Western troops to stay in the country, well beyond their combat exit deadline.
(Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman, editing by Ron Popeski)